PREVIEW: Luton Town v Wrexham

Wrexham’s preparation for tonight’s trip to Luton was plunged into disarray after news came through they had parted company with manager Andy Morrell yesterday, writes Mike Simmonds.

Action from Luton's 0-0 draw with Wrexham last season
Action from Luton's 0-0 draw with Wrexham last season

The player boss had been in charge since September 2011, but paid the price for a hugely disappointing campaign that has seen them struggle to 13th place, 26 points behind Luton and a worrying 10 away from the play-offs.

On his decision, Morrell said: “I feel it is in the best interests of both Wrexham FC and me to make a change now, so that we can all plan for the future with certainty.”

Taking charge for the immediate future is assistant boss Billy Barr, and on the news of Morrell’s departure, he said: “Andy made us aware of what his thoughts were.

“We all said take a little bit of time but he has stuck with his decision.

“It is a sad day for the football club because we are not just losing a manager, we are losing a player; although he has not played a lot this year he has been a great servant to the club.

“Great times shared by himself and Wrexham people, he will go down in folklore.”

The former boss had written off the Red Dragons’ play-off places after the 1-0 defeat at Barnet on Saturday, but Barr felt they were still in with a slim opportunity.

He continued: “We have to start winning games but we have still got a chance of the play-offs.

“The glass is always half-full with me and not empty, and that is the thing I will be trying to get across to the players that we are still in this.

“Yes, we are low on confidence and face a team that is high on confidence and on an unbelievable run, but a team that we have beat this season when we were okay.

“It is just about the players now and making sure they are ready. Take the pressure away from them a little bit and let them go and perform.”

Experienced midfielder Dean Keates felt Morrell deserved praise for walking away as he did, saying: “You have to give him full credit for a selfless act. Basically he could have seen it through but he has put the club before himself.

“He has made the decision and he walks away with the club in a better position from him being manager for the past two-and-a-half years.

“We as players have to take responsibility for the decision that Andy has made, it has not been good enough on the pitch this season.

“Hopefully somebody else can come in and maybe create something that will be special for us to go on.

“It is highly unlikely, and it does err me to say that we might not make the play-offs but it is not mathematically impossible.

“We have still got a massive outside chance but it will take a run and some confidence.”

On the field, recent away matches have seen Wrexham harder to beat as they drew with Cambridge a week ago, and had previously won at Southport and Hyde, although did suffer a 1-0 defeat to Alfreton.

They haven’t enjoyed too much success on their travels this campaign though, with four wins, four draws and eight defeats thus far.

Team news: Hatters have no new injury worries since Saturday’s 5-0 hammering of Nuneaton, leaving only Jonathan Smith and Danny Fitzsimons as long-term absentees.

Interim Wrexham chief Billy Barr may make changes, but has only added Robbie Evans to his travelling squad.

Top Skrill Premier scorers - Hatters: Andre Gray (23). Red Dragons: Andy Bishop, Joe Clarke, Johnny Hunt (6).

Average attendances: Town: 6,775. Wrexham: 3,184.

Man in the middle: Justin Amey - official has had 13 games so far this season, showing 36 yellows and one red card.

Taken Luton once in the league this term, the 2-1 win at Braintree, while officiated Wrexham’s 5-1 away hammering of Dartford.

Amey has also been linesman in the Championship this campaign in games including Brighton and Reading.

Last year he reffed 14 Conference games, showing 40 yellows and one red, having the whistle for Town’s 1-1 draw at Hereford.

The campaign before, he was referee when Hatters went down to a 3-1 defeat at Braintree.

In charge: Billy Barr took over as Wrexham interim manager yesterday.

The 45-year-old started his career with Halifax Town in July 1987, after coming through the club’s youth team.

After making almost 200 appearances, he joined Crewe Alexandra in June 1994 and then moved to Carlisle United in August 1997, where he finished his playing career.

Was caretaker manager of Carlisle from April to August 2002, before becoming first team coach at Preston North End in 2006.

Left the club in January 2010 following the appointment of Darren Ferguson as manager and joined Alan Irvine at Sheffield Wednesday as first team coach.

Towards the end of September 2011, he became assistant boss at Wrexham and has now been handed the reins after Andy Morrell left the club.

One to watch: Andy Bishop - striker was once targeted by Town when Paul Buckle was in charge, but the deal never came off.

Experienced forward who has over 100 league goals to his name and been with Wrexham permanently since the start of the season.

Scored in the 2-0 win over Luton back in September and also bagged a hat-trick in the 3-2 win against Gateshead, but has struggled for goals in general this term.

After bagging five in two games back in November, he has managed just one in his last 12 league and cup games, but remains a threat as his impressive goal records for Bury and York would show.

View from the opposition: Stand-in boss Billy Barr: “It is a chance for the players to show more than myself because they have not performed how we know they can and how they know they can.

“Let’s get a bit of belief and guidance into them and go from there.

“There will be changes, we have got to try and win a football match or not get beat because I think at the moment, if you go to Luton and don’t get beat you have done ever so well.

“But what we have got to get over to the players is we are more than capable of winning.”

Friendly faces: Town winger Shaun Whalley joined Wrexham in June 2008 on a free transfer from Accrington.

He scored on his debut in the 5-0 win over Stevenage, making 16 league appearances, netting four times, before joining Southport on loan and then leaving for Droylsden.

We’ve got form: Hatters have played Wrexham 23 times at Kenilworth Road, winning 13, drawing five and losing five, scoring 39 goals and conceding 25.

Town have only suffered one loss in their last nine meetings at home, while Wrexham haven’t scored in their last three visits, not celebrating a goal since Mathias Pogba’s strike in the 1-0 win at Hatters in October 2011.

Hatters’ biggest win was in League One in 2004 as Steve Robinson, Sol Davis, Steven O’Leary, Steve Howard and Ahmet Brkovic were on target, while Hector Sam replied.

Town’s heaviest defeat was a 5-2 beating in Division Two in 1997.

Dave Brammer and Karl Connolly put the visitors 2-0 up, before Steve Davis and Phil Gray levelled.

Connolly then went on to complete his treble, with Craig Skinner netting from the penalty spot too.

Last time out: Hatters defeated Wrexham 2-0 in the FA Trophy this season with Mark Cullen and Neil Ashton’s own goal the difference.

Last season’s league outing ended in a goalless draw.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, Dean Beckwith, Janos Kovacs, Jake Howells (Lathaniel Rowe-Turner 21), Ronnie Henry, Alex Lawless, Jon Shaw, JJ O’Donnell, Scott Rendell, Stuart Fleetwood (Dan Walker 59), Andre Gray (Yaser Kasim 77).

Subs not used: Connor Essam, Jake Robinson.

Attendance: 6,675.

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