DEAN KEATES' determination to improve standards - on and off the field - helped Wrexham win their National League survival battle.

That's the opinion of experienced out-of-contract campaigners Paul Rutherford and Jake Lawlor, who were impressed by the work Keates set about doing on his return to The Racecourse.

Wrexham were hovering above the relegation zone after being expected to challenge for promotion back to the Football League when Keates arrived back in north Wales last October.

It was not a universally popular choice with the club's loyal fanbase, but results improved sufficiently to help Wrexham avoid an unthinkable drop into National League North.

"Standards changed around the place," said Rutherford, who was brought to Wrexham by Gary Mills and played under Keates during his first spell in charge.

"Things improved a lot," agreed Lawlor. "He put his stamp on things straightaway."

Michael Chambers, who left Wrexham on-loan two months into Keates second spell in charge, prior to a permanent move away, suggested "little cliques" had formed in the Reds' changing room since during his time at The Racecourse.

But Davis Keillor-Dunn, signed in January on a short-term deal, was thriving in a united changing room before the season was cut-short, saying: “We were all in it together and linking really well as a group and it felt like there was no holding us back.”

Exactly what had changed in the time between Chambers' exit and the arrival of Keillor-Dunn?

"Dean went back to basics," said Lawlor. "There were no phones allowed on in the building. You'd come in on a Monday morning and everyone would be just on their phones.

"Lads were suddenly talking again and we had to have breakfast together by a certain time, which helped build the camaraderie. Little things like that make a difference."

Rutherford was equally impressed with the new regime, saying: "There was a fine structure put in place, nothing heavy or ridiculous, but things to make people do things right.

"You'd be fined if you didn't clean your plate up after eating, or if your GPS wasn't right. These sound like small things, but small margins help decide who wins and who doesn't in sport.

"Results-wise it was a mixed bag, but there were suddenly a lot of good habits throughout the group and there was a clear structure to our play, even when we used different formations.

"Even the Christmas party was done properly. The manager realised that it needed to happen because we maybe hadn't mixed as well as we could have.

"The manager made sure that happened and then there seemed to be a real togetherness.

"The lads who came in January like Jarvs (Dan Jarvis), Davis, JT (Jordon Thompson) and Ponch (Jordan Ponticelli) found that we were together as a group."

Rutherford is also certain that Keates will prove to be a success at Wrexham, the 32-year-old backing the Reds' boss to finish the job he started before leaving for hometown team Walsall.

"There is nobody who has Wrexham at heart more than the manager," said Rutherford. "He will work day and night to get the club back in the Football League.

"Wrexham is a town built on grit and determination and he understands that."