Dean Keates admits Wrexham are gunning for glory in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup now, as they gear up for Saturday’s quarter-final tie with Rangers Colts at Ibrox.
In the Dragons’ debut season in the competition, victories against Ayr United and St Mirren Colts mean Wrexham are now just two wins from the final.
And Keates compared the situation to Wrexham’s 2013 FA Trophy success, when he was captain, saying the interest ramps up the further you go in the competition.
With an FA Cup first-round replay at Rochdale on the cards next week now, Wrexham will have played three consecutive cup fixtures before their next league game.
As the manager put it: “I’ve said a few times, ideally you want to be playing a league game but it is what is – they’re not going to change, so there’s no point in me barking on about it. We just have to get on with the job in hand.
“It’s the quarter-final of a cup and it’s a great stadium and an opportunity for us to go up there and play.
“It’s a bit like the FA Trophy, without being disrespectful to that competition either – but the early rounds, you miss league games, you end up playing Tuesday nights and no disrespect to this competition but it’s very similar.
“But then as you arrive in the quarter-finals, as we did when we got to Wembley with the FA Trophy, you get interested then. We’re at the point now where we’re in it, we want to try and win it.”
Keates admitted there would be some squad rotation, with an eye on the FA Cup replay at Rochdale and bearing in mind the relentless schedule since he took charge.
And he called on the players to keep standards high – explaining research had been a little less complicated for this round than the previous game against St Mirren Colts.
“It’s been relentless, with the FA Cup fourth qualifying round against Chesterfield going to a replay and now a replay against Rochdale, we’ve only had one full week of just training,” Keates said.
“It’s been Saturday-Tuesday since I’ve come in. That will come into my thought process. There will be a couple of changes – I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t going to be. It’s just trying to get players minutes and making sure they’re ready.
“It’s hard, but we equip ourselves as you would for a first-team game. You have to get things checked, you try and collect your data on how they operate and give yourselves as much opportunity to go there and win a football match.
“They played down here against Solihull, so we’ve got that game, etc.
“With the St Mirren one, it was a bit different – they hadn’t played down here. But no matter what, no matter how much you give players or how little, first and foremost it’s 11 against 11 – it’s man against man – you have to go and put your game on the man opposite you. You have to outwork him and then you have to play better than him.”
Whichever players Keates chooses, however, he revealed he has a near full-strength squad at his disposal now, with only JJ Hooper and long-term absentee Manny Smith unavailable.
On the injuries he said, “We’ve got a clean bill of health from Saturday. All being well, JJ is not too far away from the squad either – it’s as close as we could be to a fully-fit squad [but] I wouldn’t have thought he’d back for this weekend.”
He also revealed he had spoken to loanee James Horsfield, whose season has been ended by the ACL injury he picked up in the win against Bromley.
“The worst case scenario was evident for James. The results have come back and he has a split in his ACL,” Keates confirmed.
“But from speaking to the lad, and seeing the report, if it can be as good as it can be, then I think it is – it’s quite a clean split. His season will be over, but if you are ever going to get one, then it is one of the better ones you can get.”
The manager also revealed he is hopeful of adding to the squad before Wrexham return to league action at home to Yeovil Town.
He added: “We’re working away on recruitment. It’s been hard – with the FA Cup players can be cup tied, etc, but now all being well (we’re not allowed to make changes to the squad from the first match against Rochdale, it’s in the regulations) I’d like to think we might get one or two ready to go towards Yeovil.”