Wrexham AFC: Johnny Hunt backs Dean Keates to end Reds' Football League exile

Reporter:

Richard Williams

JOHNNY HUNT believes former team-mate Dean Keates can turn Wrexham into promotion contenders next season.

Keates replaced Gary Mills as manager last October and led Wrexham away from the relegation zone, eventually finishing 13th in the National League.

The Reds’ boss was used to challenging at the other end of the table during a playing career that saw him win promotion six times with three different clubs.

Hunt believes Keates’ winning mentality and desire to succeed will stand Wrexham in good stead when the Reds go into a 10th season in non-league football.

“He does not accept anything other than giving your all,” said Hunt. “He was like the angry little man! But he is a winner and probably the player I have learned the most off in football, the player I have looked up to the most.

“He has got the experience and knows how to win things. From the first day he came in, he helped me a lot and I respect him a lot.

“I don’t think Wrexham could be in better hands and with the players he will bring in, they will definitely be challenging.”

Wrexham reached the play-offs three years running between 2011 and 2013 but failed to finish in the top five in each of the last four seasons.

Hunt believes Keates can turn Wrexham into promotion contenders, with proposals to include six teams in the play-offs next season boosting the Reds’ hopes of a return to the Football League.

“Wrexham need to be challenging,” said Hunt. “Firstly they need to start climbing back up and challenge for the play-offs, and then anything can happen.

“There are extra places up for grabs in the play-offs next season and even if you get seventh,  it is a start.

“Wrexham are definitely capable of that and I would love to see them do well.”

Keates has already completed four new signings, with James Hurst, Shaun Pearson, James Jennings and Chris Holroyd arriving at The Racecourse.

Hunt, who was linked with a move back to The Racecourse following his release by Chester but has since signed for League Two Mansfield Town, says Keates knows exactly what players are needed for a promotion push.

“Wrexham will always be a club close to my heart and I always look for their results,” said Hunt.

“They are in good hands with Dean, someone who knows the league and knows what you need to get out or at least challenge.

“I don’t know what the budget is but he will get the best for that budget.”

Hunt left Wrexham in 2014 for Cambridge United where he spent one season before a two-year spell at Chester.

The Blues finished 19th last term, just two points above the drop zone, having sat seventh in late December following a fine run of form, and Hunt says both his former clubs need to strive for greater consistency.

“Wrexham and Chester are two big clubs,” said Hunt. “They deserve to be there or there abouts, but it is easier said than done.

“Consistency is a big thing. Both clubs had good runs last season but they both had bad runs.

“It is making sure the good runs are more than the bad runs, and keep picking up points.”

Hunt scored the winning penalty when Wrexham secured shoot-out success against Grimsby Town in the 2013 FA Trophy final at Wembley.

Just a few weeks later and Hunt’s new club Mansfield beat Wrexham 1-0 on the final day of the season to clinch promotion back to League Two.

Wrexham were already guaranteed a play-off berth so player-boss Andy Morrell rested all his regulars – except Hunt– for the clash at Mansfield ahead of the two-legged semi-final with Kidderminster Harriers.

Hunt will now be lining up at Field Mill on a weekly basis next season.

“That was the last time I played at Mansfield,” said Hunt. “All the lads got a day-off and I was the only one that had to play!

“I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to be picked for the play-offs but I ended up playing against Kidderminster, and the others came back in.

“I am going to give it my best at Mansfield and see what happens.”

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