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Football: Ace Jonah confident of rescuing Wrexham's sinking ship; I'll keep Dragons afloat says Mark.

Byline: By MARK CURRIE Chief Sports Writer

WREXHAM'S goal-scoring midfielder Mark Jones is hoping a return to his early-season form will provide the catalyst for an upturn in the club's fortunes.

The Welsh international found the net six times in 21 matches before sustaining a knee injury in December and he has been as frustrated as anyone by the slump that has produced just one victory from the club's last 16 league games.

But he believes tonight's FAW Premier Cup quarter-final at Newport County represents a great opportunity to halt what has been a dismal run and welcomes the chance of getting another 90 minutes under his belt.

Wrexham manager Brian Carey has named a squad in which a few experienced players are conspicuous by their absence, but Jones is delighted to be involved.

"I've been out for two months - although it seemed a lot longer than that - so I could do with a few games to regain my sharpness," he said yesterday.

"That's why I'm pleased to be going to Newport, which is an important game for us in terms of giving the gaffer his first win since taking over.

"One of our problems in recent games has been scoring goals and when I'm playing well, I'm always confident that I can do that.

"The more games I play the more likely it is that the goals will start flowing again."

And Jones is keen to build a rapport with recent loan signing Jeff Whitley, who made his debut in Sunday's 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Shrewsbury Town.

"Like me, Jeff has not played a lot of football in the past couple of months, but you can see straight away that he has played a higher level and his experience should prove invaluable," he added.

"He was talking all through the game on Sunday and having him here is a massive plus for the club as we try to dig ourselves out of trouble.

"The immediate priority, though, is a win at Newport, which is a big opportunity for some of the younger players, and we are confident we can do it."

Jones, who won his first Wales cap in November's friendly against Liechtenstein, was sidelined for last month's match with Northern Ireland and, although there are two European Championship qualifiers coming up next month, he is not looking that far ahead.

"I haven't thought about it because my main priority is getting a run of games under my belt with Wrexham," he said.

"Wrexham's fight to stay in this league is the only thing that counts at the moment and that's something everyone here is focused on."

Racecourse boss Carey has decided to rest the likes of Neil Roberts, Chris Llewellyn and Danny Williams this evening but insisted the players on duty were more than capable of extending Wrexham's fine record in the BBC Wales-sponsored competition.

"It's a bit of a mix and match squad but I believe it is strong enough to win the game," he said.

"The opportunity is there for some of the younger players to come in and perform, but the bulk of the starting XI will know what to expect because we played at Newport at the same stage of the competition last year."

The Dragons won that game 2-0, but Carey expects a tougher test this time round and has warned his players against complacency.

"The lesson for us is that Port Talbot have already beaten Swansea City in the competition, so there is no question of us taking Newport County lightly," he added.

"We are going there to win, but I'm also hoping we can use this match as a form of preparation for Saturday's league game at Barnet."

Defender Shaun Pejic, who has recovered from a hamstring strain, will start this evening's match and it seems likely that Steve Evans, who begins a five-match ban at the weekend, will be on the bench.

Midfielder Levi Mackin, available again after suspension, is included, but goalkeeper Mike Ingham, who received a blow on the head during training last Friday, is not travelling.

County boss Peter Beadle said Wrexham's poor league form was not an issue for him, saying: "We won't worry yet about what shape Wrexham are in.

"We need to focus on making sure we are at our best and continue to show consistent form, as we have in recent games.

"This game probably isn't a big priority for Wrexham, but they will want to win and we will need to be at our very best to win."

Newport v Wrexham, FAW Premier Cup, tonight, 7pm

NEWPORT (probable): Ovendale; Jenkins, Brough, Hillyer, Searle; Bowen, Garner, Davies, R Evans; Holdsworth, Griffin. Subs (from): Giles, Hughes, Edwards, Collier, Toppar, Hartland.

WREXHAM (from): Ruddy, Michael Jones, Roche, Valentine, Pejic, Mike Williams, Spender, Mackin, Whitley, Mark Jones, McEvilly, Marc Williams, Johsnon, Done, Carvill, S Evans, Reed, Barron.

REFEREE: Dean John.

CAPTION(S):

Midfielder Mark Jones hopes he can recapture his early season goal-scoring form, he found the net six times in 21 games, to help Brian Carey's men escape relegation
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 28, 2007
Words:847
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