Wrexham 3 Sheffield United 3
Ryan Reynolds got his blockbuster but not the romantic upset that was within Wrexham’s grasp in a thrilling FA Cup tie at the Racecourse Ground. The National League leaders were on the verge of knocking out Sheffield United and reaching the fifth round for the first time in 26 years when John Egan shattered their dreams with a 95th-minute equaliser. A sequel awaits.
Paul Mullin put Phil Parkinson’s team into a 3-2 lead with four minutes of normal time remaining only for the Blades’ Irish captain to salvage a draw for the visitors, reduced to 10 men when Daniel Jebbison was sent off, when converting at a corner in stoppage-time. Wrexham, under the anxious, watchful eye of their A-list co-owner, deserved far more.
The tie inevitably got the big Hollywood build-up and opened with what resembled a disaster movie for Wrexham. They were behind with merely 62 seconds on the clock and lost two-thirds of their central defence to injury inside the first 10 minutes. Parkinson’s side were always in for a difficult evening against a confident opponent sitting comfortably in second place in the Championship, but the early blows were considerable.
Oli McBurnie opened the scoring with a powerful near post header from Thomas Doyle’s corner. The centre forward peeled away from Jordan Tunnicliffe in a crowded penalty area to make space for an emphatic finish past the exposed Wrexham goalkeeper, Mark Howard.
In an unsuccessful attempt to find his man Tunnicliffe collided with a Sheffield United player and hobbled off after lengthy treatment. Minutes later Aaron Hayden went to ground with what appeared a hamstring injury. He attempted to soldier on before succumbing to the inevitable and disappearing down the tunnel.
Parkinson looked on with dismay. Not only had his first-choice defence been dismantled but Wrexham had also lost two potent aerial threats able to capitalise on Ben Tozer’s long-range throw-ins into the heart of the visitors’ penalty area. The reaction was defiant.
Wrexham survived several first-half scares as well as the setbacks to produce a combative, dangerous performance. Mullin and Ollie Palmer were a troublesome partnership for the Sheffield United defence, never allowing their opponents to settle, winning the aerial battles and attempting to beat them on the ground at every opportunity.
In first-half stoppage time Mullin broke away from Chris Basham and tested Adam Davies with a powerful drive from a tight angle. He also seized on a defensive lapse to drive at the heart of the visiting defence before being clipped just outside the area by Egan. The United captain went into the book and Mullin’s dangerous free-kick cannoned off the wall.
Wrexham had momentum, belief and the measure of their Championship opponents by the end of the half. Within five minutes of the restart, they had a well-earned equaliser too.
United were immediately on the back foot and in trouble when Davies could only parry Luke Young’s drive from just outside the area. Max Cleworth was unable to convert in the goalmouth scramble that ensued and Jayden Bogle hacked clear for a throw-in. Tozer returned it with interest. His throw skimmed off a United player and into the path of substitute James Jones, who held off his marker and hooked in from close range.
Reynolds was in raptures in the directors’ box. He was in dreamland shortly afterwards when Wrexham took the lead after United again failed to deal with the physical threat inside their six-yard box. A corner from Jones caused mayhem this time, with the goalscorer’s delivery missed at the near post and hitting Billy Sharp on the arm before falling to Ireland under-21 international Tom O’Connor. The midfielder swept home from close range and Wrexham had their fairytale script.
It was torn up four minutes later. Wrexham struggled to clear Bogle’s cross from the right and, though Tozer blocked a goalbound drive from Oliver Norwood, the rebound fell perfectly for the Northern Ireland international to roll a cool finish inside the far corner.
There were more plot twists to come in an enthralling cup tie. Jebbison was shown a straight red card for kicking out at Tozer in an off-the-ball incident spotted by the fourth official, Scott Oldham. Palmer was desperately unlucky not to punish the 10 men when he seized on a loose ball and struck the crossbar with a thunderous shot that bounced down just in front of the goal-line.
United were not reprieved for long. With four minutes of normal time remaining Wrexham countered through Mullin, who released the substitute Sam Dalby in space down the right and set off towards the penalty spot for the return. Dalby delivered to perfection and Mullin held his nerve to beat Davies with a confident low finish. A giantkilling beckoned only for the Wrexham defence to switch off at one last corner and Egan to equalise at the back post. – Guardian