Wrexham foiled by 10-man Sheffield United’s late equaliser in FA Cup cracker
Ryan Reynolds got the blockbuster he craved but not the romantic upset that Wrexham deserved. The National League leaders were on the verge of beating Sheffield United and reaching the fifth round for the first time in 26 years when John Egan ruined their script with a 95th-minute equaliser.
A sequel awaits, and the team pursuing promotion to the Premier League were fortunate to get it. Paul Mullin, a menace to Paul Heckingbottom’s team throughout a thrilling cup tie, edged Wrexham ahead with four minutes of normal time remaining at a raucous Racecourse Ground.
Related: Wrexham v Sheffield United: FA Cup fourth round – live
Phil Parkinson’s side needed to hold out and a fairytale comeback would have been complete. But they switched off at one final corner and there was Egan to rescue a draw for a Championship team reduced to 10 men when Daniel Jebbison was sent off for kicking out at Ben Tozer. Wrexham merited more for an accomplished display and the way they recovered from a dreadful start. Not even a post-match pep talk from their A-list co-owner could lift them afterwards.
“The lads are flat in the dressing room,” Parkinson said. “Ryan came in afterwards and said some great words and that meant everything. We were so close. When we wake up tomorrow morning we can take enormous credit but I’m choked for the fans that we haven’t got over the line and written history.”
The tie inevitably got the big Hollywood buildup but opened with what resembled a disaster movie for Wrexham. They were behind with 62 seconds on the clock and lost two-thirds of their central defence to injury inside the first 10 minutes.
Oli McBurnie opened the scoring with a powerful near-post header from Thomas Doyle’s corner. The centre-forward peeled away from Jordan Tunnicliffe to make space for an emphatic finish past the Wrexham goalkeeper Mark Howard. In an unsuccessful attempt to find his man Tunnicliffe collided with a Sheffield United player and was taken to hospital with ankle ligament damage.
Moments later Aaron Hayden went to ground with a calf 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 lost two potent aerial threats to capitalise on Tozer’s long-range throw-ins into the heart of the visitors’ penalty area.
The reaction was defiant, and set the stage for a memorable contest. “To reset as well as we did was outstanding,” Parkinson said. “Lesser players could have been beaten four- or five-nil after that start but we showed character, heart and quality.”
Mullin and Ollie Palmer were a troublesome strike partnership for the Sheffield United defence and led the recovery. Wrexham had momentum, belief and the measure of their Championship opponents by half-time.
Within five minutes of the restart, they had a well-earned equaliser too. United were immediately on the back foot and in trouble when goalkeeper Adam Davies could only parry Luke Young’s drive. The substitute Max Cleworth was unable to convert in the scramble that ensued and Jayden Bogle hacked clear for a throw-in. Tozer returned it with interest. His throw skimmed off a United player into the path of substitute James Jones, who 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.
When @RMcElhenney and I got into this it all felt so impossible. But impossible is @Wrexham_AFC’s favourite colour. That was one of the most exciting things I’ve EVER seen. Thank you each and every Wrexham supporter who came out and aimed your heart at that pitch tonight ⚔️🏴⚔️ pic.twitter.com/s4dbCDJS7W
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) January 29, 2023
A corner from Jones caused mayhem, with the goalscorer’s delivery missed at the near post and hitting substitute Billy Sharp on the arm before falling to Tom O’Connor. The midfielder swept home and Wrexham had their fairytale script. It was placed on hold four minutes later. Wrexham struggled to clear a Bogle cross and, though Tozer blocked a low 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. Jebbison was shown a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident spotted by fourth official Scott Oldham. Palmer was desperately unlucky not to punish the 10 men when, after a possible handball by Anel Ahmedhodzic, he smacked the loose ball against the crossbar and saw the effort bounce down just in front of the goalline. United were not reprieved for long.
Wrexham countered through Mullin, who released 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 finish. A giantkilling was on the cards until Egan popped up at the back post to convert Norwood’s corner deep into stoppage time.
“I’m relieved,” the Sheffield United manager said. “We knew why everyone was here today and I’m just glad we didn’t give them what they wanted.”