Jan 1 2011 by Mark Currie, Daily Post
WREXHAM captain Dean Keates has told his team-mates to forget about the end-of-season play-offs and instead concentrate on winning automatic promotion back into the Football League.
Ahead of this afternoon’s visit to relegation battlers Altrincham, the experienced midfielder admitted the Dragons had failed to do themselves justice during the first five months of the season, but maintained that the 11-point gap between themselves and current front-runners AFC Wimbledon was not unassailable.
“We dropped some silly points in the early part of the season, probably because it was pretty much a totally new team,” he said yesterday.
“The games against Kidderminster, Darlington and York, particularly, we should have won, but gradually we have been cutting out the mistakes and I think we will be much stronger in the second half of the season.
“Obviously at this time of the year it would have been nice to be higher up the table, but we have done okay and know we can do much better.
“I firmly believe we can go for top spot in the league, even though there are a few teams between us and Wimbledon at the moment.
“We have to play most, if not all of them and we are capable of beating them, so making up 11 points from this stage of the season is achievable.”
That’s not to say Keates is anticipating an easy ride at Moss Lane today.
“Altrincham are bottom so they will be fighting for their lives,” he added.
“They have to start picking up points soon if they want to get themselves clear of danger and we have to be ready for that.
“We have a game-plan in mind, but the first priority will be to establish the platform from which we can carry it through.”
Wrexham manager Dean Saunders has also warned his players against complacency and is confident they will be ready for anything Ken McKenna’s men throw at them.
“We have had a couple of weeks off but I expect everyone to hit the ground running tomorrow,” he said.
“We have to ensure that we are focused and disciplined and that we don’t give anything away.
“Despite the league table, I have a great deal of respect for Altrincham and their manager and I know they will not sit back and let us play.
“We’ll have to earn that right, which means everyone’s attitude must be spot-on from the first kick of the game.”
Without suspended duo Andy Mangan and Curtis Obeng, the Dragons boss otherwise has a fully-fit squad to call upon, although midfielder Jamie Tolley was suffering from flu earlier in the week.
And, having rested several key players for Wrexham’s last outing, the FA Trophy win over Kidderminster Harriers three weeks ago, Saunders will give careful thought to his starting line-up.
“We should have a lot of our own fans at Altrincham tomorrow and I want to make sure we get the New Year off to a winning start for them,” he added.
“Three points tomorrow would give us just the boost we need going into a home game with Bath on Monday.
“On paper we are favourites to win both matches and we must justify that.
“I have some big decisions to make regarding the team, but the good thing is that I have a pretty strong hand and we are in a healthy state
Altrincham boss McKenna, who cut his managerial teeth with Welsh Premier League outfit The New Saints, is unsure what effect the long lay-off could have on his players.
“Looking at the lads in training I’ve been thinking how long are they going to last?,” he said.
“We don’t know what the fitness levels will be like but everybody’s in the same boat.
“Wrexham are massive favourites for the game. They’re a big club, they’ve been going well, they’ve got a lot of experience and a lot of good players.
“It’s always hard playing full-time clubs whereas our players are part-time so it will be a challenge for them.”
McKenna will be without on-loan striker Wes Baynes, who can’t play against his parent club, but could give a first start to another striker, Mark Beesley, who is also on loan from Fleetwood Town.
And illness in the camp could be another factor for the Robins, with McKenna adding: “We’ve got a couple who have had a flu virus that’s been going around but we’ve got no actual injuries.
“We have had a lot of lads under the weather so we’ve got to assess those tomorrow.”