Sheffield United’s Sharp and Berge strike late to end Wrexham’s Cup dream
Ryan Reynolds is no stranger to a dramatic finale, but this will have been one the Wrexham co-owner would have rather not seen. The sequel does not always live up to the hype of the original but after their thrilling 3-3 draw in north Wales nine days earlier, that was anything but the case here on a gripping night at Bramall Lane. In the end though Reynolds, Phil Parkinson and everyone associated with Wrexham may well be wondering what might have been.
Make no mistake about it, over the course of 90 engrossing minutes Sheffield United were worthy winners. Wrexham’s attention must turn back to promotion from the National League as the Blades prepare for Tottenham in the fifth round of the FA Cup. But as we are beginning to learn with Wrexham since their Hollywood-inspired takeover, nothing is ever really that straightforward.
Having bombarded Wrexham for nearly 50 minutes, when Anel Ahmedhodzic finally broke the deadlock and put the Blades into a deserved lead, you wondered if Wrexham’s spirit would break. Not a chance. They battled, fought and with 20 minutes left, levelled when Paul Mullin powered home a penalty to bring the non-league side level and send the 4,000-plus travelling supporters into delirium.
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Sixty places separated the second tier playoff contenders and the Mariners. Paul Hurst’s side took the opportunity with both hands as they clinched a spot in the fifth round for the first time since 1996 in style. The tie was settled by half-time as goals from Harry Clifton (pictured), Danilo Orsi and Danny Amos did the damage.
Clifton, who forced the replay with his equaliser in the first game, got the party started with a left-footed effort in the ninth minute. Orsi doubled the advantage as his firmly-struck effort found the bottom corner in the 28th minute. Amos then sent the hosts into dreamland as his free-kick went in off a post in first-half stoppage time.
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Tella needed only 46 seconds to put Burnley in front but after Ipswich hit back through George Hirst two minutes later it was turning into a frustrating night for the Championship leaders. That was until the third minute of stoppage time, when Tella controlled a long ball into the box and sent a powerful finish beyond Vaclav Hladky. It sets up a last-16 home tie against League One Fleetwood.
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But the drama was just beginning. Seven minutes later, Mullin had a second chance to convert from the spot after being fouled again in the box. This time though, he was denied by Adam Davies – and that moment not only proved costly on the night, but it will likely haunt Mullin and Wrexham for some time. Just as the game seemed destined for extra time and the fairytale to remain alive for at least another 30 minutes, the Championship side struck twice in ruthless fashion.
They probably should have ended the tie before then. But when Billy Sharp converted in stoppage time to make it 2-1, Wrexham had no choice but to chance their arm. That left them open and three minutes later, Sander Berge finished another break to put the result, finally, beyond doubt.
“I’m immensely proud of the performance,” Parkinson said. “We’ve taken a very good team right to the wire, and if that penalty had gone in we’d have gone on and won the game. Everyone thought our best chance of winning the tie had gone but I can’t fault how the lads performed.”
The final scoreline was perhaps harsh on Wrexham given how they acquitted themselves but if you strip back all the glamour, the quality of the Championship side meant the result was the right one, even with Mullin’s penalty miss. For almost the entire first half the Blades laid siege to Wrexham’s penalty area, but were unable to create any clear opportunities in the opening half hour.
The pick of the moments came when James McAtee and Iliman Ndiaye broke downfield after the Senegal striker picked off an undercooked pass from Andy Cannon. McAtee should have squared to Ndiaye, but he opted to shoot – and he curled the ball around Rob Lainton’s post. But shortly after half-time the deadlock was broken, as Ahmedhodzic shot past Lainton after being freed by Ben Osborn.
As the game approached the final quarter, Wrexham responded. Mullin was fouled by Ahmedhodzic and he made no mistake from the spot. Crucially though, he would waste his next opportunity seven minutes later. This time Davies denied him with an impressive save – and it shifted the momentum back the Blades’ way.
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They attacked Wrexham once again. But just as extra time was looming the Blades showed their class and quality, and there was a collective sigh of relief inside the ground when Sharp steered the ball past Lainton to make it 2-1. Then, with Wrexham stretched and pushing for another equaliser, Berge was freed by McAtee and he made no mistake.
“The performance was good, we were good from start to finish,” Paul Heckingbottom, United’s manager, rightly pointed out. “We topped off what’s been a really good Cup tie with the result.” It certainly was a great tie and despite all the fanfare surrounding Wrexham and how close they came to winning the original tie, this time there could be no arguing the outcome was the right one.