SKIPPER Dean Keates is being spurred on by the chance to play at Wembley for the first time in his successful career.
Keates has won promotion six times with three different clubs, but the midfielder has only once gone up through the play-offs – when he helped Walsall beat Reading 3-2 in the Division Two final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in 2001.
Wrexham face Luton Town in the Conference play-off semi-finals, with the first leg at Kenilworth Road on Thursday, and Keates hopes to cap an excellent season by winning promotion in the final at Wembley on May 20.
“I have only been in the play-offs twice, and once was losing last season with Wrexham,” said Keates.
“I have been fortunate enough to get to a play-off final at Cardiff so I have never played at Wembley and that is something I want massively.
“If I get the chance to get this club promoted and be a part of that at Wembley, it would be a massive thing to me.
“I have a few more years left in me but it would be something I want massively, and so do the rest of the lads.”
The 33-year-old added: “You just look around this place, the fans are dying to support you and push you on.
“They were unbelievable what they did at the beginning of the season to save the club, and to get the club going and to give us a chance.
“Hopefully we can pay them back, not just with a great day out at Wembley but a successful day out at Wembley. But we have two massive games against Luton first.”
Wrexham came out on top in both meetings with Luton during the regular season, winning the away game 1-0 last October before sealing a 2-0 victory at The Racecourse in March. But Keates insists that will count for nothing when Wrexham, beaten 5-1 on aggregate by Luton in the play-off semi-finals last season, go head-to-head once again.
“We had the disappointment from last season but I don’t think anything out of this season goes into it now. It is what happens in the next two games,” said Keates.
“Last season we beat Luton at home, went there and drew. They came here in the play-offs and smashed us 3-0 in the first 20 minutes.
“The fact we have beaten them twice this season goes out of the window. It doesn’t mean anything.
“Over the two legs the best team will prevail and get to the final. Hopefully we can do ourselves and the club credit, and it us who gets to the final.”
Just weeks after Wrexham overcame Luton in the last meeting on March 7, the Hatters parted company with manager Gary Brabin after the club dropped out of the play-off positions.
New boss Paul Buckle did lead Luton to a top-five finish – they ended 17 points behind second placed Wrexham – and Keates will not be taking anything for granted following their rivals’ revival.
“I don’t know what the points difference is between us,” he said.
“But we have been more consistent over the season, so hopefully we are more consistent over these two games.”
“Twice we have beaten them this season but it was under a different manager so there is a new regime at Luton. There are going to be new tactics, a new way to play so obviously things have changed and we will be up against something new.
“It is nice we have beaten them twice but it goes out of the window quite a bit with the fact it is a new manager.”
Keates added: “That fact we have got 98 points means we have been very consistent but we have just missed out on the league. Any other season we would have got promoted.
“We go into the play-offs on the back of 98 points and 50-plus goals so we will take a lot of confidence from that.
“But it is who handles the pressure now. Who goes into the games with the best mind and who comes out with the strongest mentality.”
Wrexham missed out on automatic promotion after a late dip in form but they finished the regular season with two successive wins, beating Newport County 1-0 last week before a 5-1 final day success over Braintree Town on Saturday.
And Keates believes Wrexham go into the play-offs in good shape after getting back to winning ways: “It was a bit of a lull because with seven or eight games to go, it was in our hands to win the league and we let it slip,” he said. “It was a massive disappointment but we have shaken it off.
“The lads went down to Newport in a Welsh derby last week and got a 1-0 victory on a horrendous pitch; we came back and scored five goals at home and won 5-1 against Braintree.
“I think it was more frustration and disappointment more than anything in the changing room that we had let it go.
“We knew what we could have done and what we could have achieved but we let it slip. We know what we have got to do now, we have got to go and win three football matches.”
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