REFEREE Trevor Parkes is unlikely ever to figure on Wrexham manager Denis Smith's Christmas card list following the official's handling of yesterday's Racecourse defeat by Second Division play-off contenders Hartlepool United.

The two men clashed last August when Parkes dismissed Smith from the bench in a Carling Cup defeat at Crewe Alexandra after red carding defender Brian Carey. And the Dragons boss was less than impressed by their latest meeting.

"I thought the best team lost and I thought the defeat was helped along by the referee," he said. "When I saw it was him before the game I knew we'd have problems because he's cost us one game already this season.

"He's cost us two now and under the circumstances that's frustrating because I thought we were by far the better team."

It was hard not to feel some sympathy for Smith who, through different circumstances, was denied the services of experienced professionals Darren Ferguson, Brian Carey, Steve Roberts and Andy Dibble. He then saw two more, Jim Whitley and Carlos Edwards, forced out of the game before half time.

Until then his team had gone out with a spring in their step and a sense of adventure in their soul, setting the tone in the second minute of the game with a diving header from Chris Armstrong that rebounded from a post. Their passing was crisp and accurate and the visitors often found themselves chasing shadows as the home side dominated the exchanges.

The lively Armstrong was let down by his first touch chasing a though ball from Carlos Edwards and the striker was then denied a goal by a fine save from keeper Jim Provett in the 24th minute of a one-sided contest.

But those missed opportunities assumed greater significance once the Trinidadian wing-back and Whitley both limped off within two minutes of each other. For the first time United began to get their act together.

Neil Danns got forward to test Mike Ingham, whose reactions were good, but when the keeper turned Hugh Robert-son's free-kick for a corner, the home side were punished on 41 minutes.

No-one in a red shirt attacked the corner forcefully and although Craig Morgan had a chance to clear his lines, it was Darrell Clarke who thumped the ball into the net to give the visitors a lead they barely deserved.

Wrexham refused to let their heads drop and Provett was soon in action again, turning a Paul Edwards header over the bar before making a more comfortable save as Armstrong stretched to meet Chris Llewellyn's cross.

But Hartlepool increased their lead after 63 minutes by playing the percentages once again when a poor clearance fell nicely for Danns, whose first-time riposte found the bottom corner beyond the unsighted Ingham.

Two minutes later Provett went down smartly to save a Steve Thomas free-kick and the home side were finally rewarded for their dogged determination when with 19 minutes remaining Paul Barrett volleyed an all too rare goal from Armstrong's cross.

Ingham kept Wrexham in the hunt for a point with a superb save from another Robertson free-kick but his team-mates were unable to profit from nervous defending in the final few minutes.

And Smith claimed the outcome was tough on his makeshift side. "People will look at the result but I'm angry that we've not won or at least claimed a draw because we deserved that," he said.

"We were so much on top but then we lost Jim and Carlos in the space of a couple of minutes. You begin to think someone up there doesn't like you."