THROUGH adversity comes strength and Denis Smith hailed a group of players who refused to throw in the towel.

There were high hopes that Wrexham could challenge for a play-off spot going into the 2004-05 League One campaign.

Experienced manager Smith had recruited well and the mid-table Reds were in a position to mount a promotion challenge in the second half of the season.

But there were huge problems behind the scenes and after club owner Alex Hamilton rejected a series of takeover bids from former chairman Mark Guterman, heavily-in-debt Wrexham were forced to go into administration on December 3, 2004.

The Reds became the first club to suffer a 10-point deduction for being placed in administration, and slipped from a healthy position down to the relegation zone.

Amid the battle to beat the drop, and uncertainty surrounding the club's future, Wrexham had the welcome distraction of the LDV Vans Trophy, a competition for League One and Two sides.

Early round wins against Notts County, Stockport, arch-rivals Chester and Hereford were followed by a 6-3 Northern Area semi-final victory over Oldham, and Wrexham had done the unthinkable.

They had reached the final and everyone connected with a club had a day out to remember at The Millennium Stadium on April 10, 2005, as Wrexham beat Southend United 2-0 to lift the trophy.

The players had done Wrexham proud - but Smith insists it was a team effort from a club that refused to give in.

"Considering we were in administration, we had a decent set of lads who worked well together," said Smith.

"If everybody stayed fit, we were a decent side. The attitude of the majority of them was good.

"The players stuck together and they deserved every pat on the back that they got.

"The fans proved that. They turned out in numbers which was great.

"We gave them something back for sticking with us.

"It was a joy to be at the club because everybody was trying to pull in the same, right direction."

Smith had an illustrious playing career with Stoke and won promotions as a manager with York, Sunderland and Oxford before taking Wrexham up in 2003.

But adding silverware in the shape of the LDV Vans Trophy was no less of an achievement for the 72-year-old.

"Winning anything as a manager is a pleasure," said Smith.

"With a group of players in adversity as we were, it is one hell of an achievement to win something when you are in administration and everybody is trying to chop your legs from under you and you keep going.

"It was brilliant."

Smith admits the run to the final, where around 20,000 Wrexham supporters descended on the capital on a sun-baked Sunday, was a saviour to a club in crisis.

"We were in administration and we needed the money," said Smith.

"I would say to the lads, if you want paying, this is a good way of getting paid, and it kept the administrators off our backs to a level because we were making money out of the competition.

"The administrators were taking a lot of the money but the things it did for the club at that time; it was important that we kept people going.

"Within a football club it is not just about the players. There are loads of different staff who work within it who need paying.

"The board helped us out and it was an all-round team effort. Everybody, not just the lads who were out on the pitch."

Wrexham's off the field battles were mirrored by a hard-fight encounter with Southend who were flying high in League Two and seen as favourites to win the showpiece with Wrexham battling for survival in the division above.

Neither side could break the deadlock in normal time, on-loan goalkeeper Ben Foster keeping Wrexham in the game with a series of superb saves.

But Juan Ugarte and captain Darren Ferguson scored in either half of extra-time as Wrexham came out on top in front of nearly 37,000 supporters.

Spanish striker Ugarte had been a prolific scorer to give the Reds hope of avoiding relegation and Smith just knew he had a goal in him on the big stage as he netted from close range.

"I can remember people saying 'get him off' in the final but you just knew he was always liable to score," said Smith.

"He was a goalscorer, a natural goalscorer.

"There were a lot of other things he couldn't do but what a great thing to have scoring goals.

"He was possibly only a foot out for his goal but it doesn't matter how far out you are.

"It doesn't have to be a great goal - just score! Be in the right spot and he was very good at that."

Ferguson sealed the win with a late goal before proudly lifting the trophy.

The Reds' captain, watched on by father Sir Alex Ferguson, led by example on and off the pitch, and was someone Smith could always depend on.

"Darren was always a leader, that was his nature," said Smith.

"The one thing you could guarantee, if things were going wrong in the dressing room at half-time, by the time that I got in, Darren would be having a go at people.

"I had to tell him to shut-up so I could speak! He always had a problem knowing when to shut-up!

"But it is great to have a leader like that, you need those people."

Stoke City stopper Foster delivered a man-of-the-match performance and it did not go unnoticed as Ferguson senior, in charge at Manchester United, snapped him up that summer.

To this day Foster has been a consistent performer in the Premier League, currently earning plaudits with Watford, and Smith recognised his potential during his stint at The Racecourse.

"In Ben we had the best goalkeeper in the league so that gives you a chance," said Smith.

"Darren's dad was there watching the final and that got Ben his move to Manchester United.

"He is possibly the best English goalkeeper in the country at the moment."

The celebrations following the cup success continued long into the night at a Cardiff hotel and Smith recalled how Foster told him he wanted to extend his stay with Wrexham for the following season, but the Reds boss knew the goalkeeper was destined for bigger and better things.

"Ben came up to me and he said: 'gaffer, is there any chance of me being here next season' because he was on loan," said Smith.

"I just said to him: 'son, I don't think you will be with us'!"

Smith also discovered during the 'after-show party' that centre-back Steve Roberts, forced off early in the final through injury, had more strings to his bow.

"The celebrations were extremely good!" said Smith. "I found out Robbo could play the piano!

"He was playing the piano and everybody was there around him.

"It was a very enjoyable evening."

Carlos Edwards, Andy Holt, Dennis Lawrence and Chris Llewellyn were among the players who started the final.

A third Trinidadian, Hector Sam, was an unused substitute as Smith persisted with his strikeforce of Ugarte and Llewellyn.

Smith says Sam was a huge talent but a frustrating player who never went on to fulfill his potential.

"Hector was one of those who could have been a player," said Smith.

"Out of the three Trinidadian's I had, he was possibly the one with the most natural talent but to say he was laid back was an understatement.

"The other two went on to do really well. They were two good pros, he was a nightmare!"

After returning to north Wales, the battle against relegation continued.

Wrexham fought to the end but in the end the 10-point punishment proved too much and the Reds were relegated to League Two.

It was not the way Smith saw the season ending, but he was nonetheless proud of his group of players who had at least written themselves into the history books with the Trophy victory.

"Through no fault of the people on the pitch, we had to go into administration to get away from Hamilton," added Smith.

"It was frustrating because you are thinking 'we have got something here that we can take on, perhaps get into the Championship'.

"The difference the points deduction made, us going down and what happened after, was massive.

"But the LDV Vans Trophy win was something that will never be forgotten."