A DREADFUL first half condemned Wrexham to 4-2 defeat against Ebbsfleet United at Stonebridge Road.

Bryan Hughes' side trailed 3-0 at the break as play-off contenders Ebbsfleet caused all sorts of problems.

Wrexham were much better in the second half and managed to score two goals to pull it back to 3-2 and give hope of a comeback, but the Fleet scored a crucial fourth to run out winners.

It was Wrexham's fourth league defeat in five outings as the Reds suffered another dent to the promotion challenge.

The starting line-up showed three changes from the side that lost at Hartlepool the previous weekend.

Kevin Roberts replaced Kieron Kennedy at right-back, Mark Carrington came into the midfield in place of Luke Young and on-loan striker Anthony Spyrou was handed a first start in place of Chris Holroyd.

Despite the Ebbsfleet players not warming up due to a pay dispute, the hosts settled quicker and Chris Bush whipped in a cross that was just beyond Gozie Ugwu.

The Fleet took the lead in the 10th minute following good build-up play.

Myles Weston whipped in a low cross and the ball deflected off Shaun Pearson past Rob Lainton.

There was another chance for the hosts as Corey Whitely raced onto Michael Cheek's flick-on but his weak shot was saved by Lainton.

Wrexham responded with Carrington's effort which drifted well wide and Kemy Agustien's free-kick from distance lacked power with keeper Nathan Ashmore making a routine save.

But Ebbsfleet doubled their lead after 39 minutes.

Whitely's free-kick was deflected behind for a corner from which an unmarked Cheek headed home.

It got worse for Wrexham as the hosts scored a third goal one minute before the break.

Ugwu cut inside from the right and threaded a pass through for Cheek who found the back of the net.

Ebbsfleet almost scored a fourth goal in added time but Lainton pulled off a superb save to keep out Weston's effort.

Hughes made a triple substitution for the start of the second half with Agustien, Jermaine McGlashan and Spyrou replaced by Young, Stuart Beavon and Jason Oswell as he switched to a 3-5-2 system.

Wrexham pulled a goal back on 50 minutes.

A cross reached Paul Rutherford at the far post and his drive across goal was turned home by Beavon.

But Ebbsfleet weren't sitting on their own lead and Cheek, looking for his hat-trick, put a free header over the bar from close range.

The Fleet were indebted to Ashmore for keeping them two goals up as the goalkeeper made a stunning save to somehow turn James Jennings's header over the bar from Rutherford's cross.

Jennings saw a shot blocked for a corner and after Wrexham won another, Young's flag-kick was headed just wide by Oswell from a good position.

But Wrexham made it 3-2 seven minutes from time.

Two efforts were cleared off the line following a corner but Pearson managed to convert.

Wrexham saw a glorious chance to equalise go begging but Ebbsfleet took a 4-2 lead in the 86th minute on the counter attack.

Andy Drury fed Ugwu who slotted past Lainton.

Beavon wasn't far away with a late volley but Wrexham suffered another defeat.

Ebbsfleet United (3-4-3): Ashmore; Magri, King, Bush; Wilson, Rance (Adams 88), Payne, Weston; Cheek (Graham 78), Ugwu, Whitely (Drury 67). Subs not used: Kedwell, Moncur.

Wrexham (4-2-3-1): Lainton; Roberts, Lawlor, Pearson, Jennings; Carrington, Agustien (Young 46); McGlashan (Beavon 46), Wright, Rutherford; Spyrou (Oswell 46). Subs not used: Dibble, Holroyd.

Referee: Chris Pollard.

Attendance: 1,523.