By Mike Whalley at Bramall Lane
Sheffield United can do dramatic endings to match anything in Ryan Reynolds’ repertoire. Having salvaged an FA Cup fourth-round replay against Wrexham with a 95th-minute equaliser, they won it with goals in the 94th and 96th minutes.
Billy Sharp’s finish on the break, as the visitors chased a winner of their own, ended hopes of an upset. Sander Berge then made sure of the win by converting a pass from James McAtee, and sent the Championship side through to a fifth-round home tie against Tottenham Hotspur.
The money from that match will come in very handy for a side dealing with financial difficulties and a transfer embargo off the field. For a long time, though, it looked as if Wrexham were about to sprinkle some more Hollywood stardust on the FA Cup.
Co-owners Reynolds and Rob McElhenney might, in the long run, draw more satisfaction from ending Wrexham’s 15-year Football League exile with promotion from the National League came May.
And Phil Parkinson’s team selection suggested that mattered more than a first FA Cup fifth-round appearance since 1997, yet the seven players he brought into his starting line-up helped make it the most testing of nights for their Championship hosts.
Sheffield United’s attacking promise frequently floundered because of poor decision-making in the final third of the field. Nowhere was that demonstrated more clearly than when McAtee wasted the first half’s best chance. The Manchester City loanee, breaking clear after Andy Cannon and Luke Young got into a mix-up following a Wrexham corner, was faced with only goalkeeper Rob Lainton to beat and had Iliman Ndiaye in support, but rolled his shot wide.
Lainton, one of the seven stand-ins, made a superb reaction save to stop Anel Ahmedhodzic driving in from Ndiaye’s cutback later in the half.
United, though, took the lead in the 50th minute. Ahmedhodzic, receiving possession after Chris Basham had chased a loose ball from a Sharp cross, played a neat one-two with Ben Osborn, lifting the return pass high into the net with a classy angled shot.
The drama, however, was only just beginning. Moments after Sharp had passed up a good chance to double the hosts’ lead by allowing Lainton to save a weak shot, Ahmedhodzic committed a shirt tug on Paul Mullin that was judged to be inside the area. Mullin blasted the penalty high down the middle, his 29th goal of the season, and the 4,800 visiting supporters dreamed of an upset.
It began to look a strong possibility when Mullin was then hacked down by Oliver Norwood, just on as a substitute, for a second penalty. The Wrexham forward struck the ball fiercely for the corner, but Adam Davies flew to his right to save superbly, and the non-leaguers’ best chance had gone.
Billy Sharp is both happy and unhappy
I think they’ve been disrespectful with a few things before the game, thinking they were already through. I’m glad we’ve beat them. I wasn’t happy with a few of their players tonight. But that’s it, we’ve got one over on them. Good luck to them for promotion. Hopefully we’ve put that to bed now because, honestly, a few of their players I wasn’t happy with. I’m a little bit frustrated because I should have put it to bed earlier. It’s one of them things. I want to win and want to get through to the next round.
I wasn’t happy the way they’ve been as a club. Before the game, eyeing up Spurs and they’ve not even beaten us. I think they thought we’d roll over when they got back into it. I think the referee was helping them all night as well. I don’t think he game me a foul all night. I lost my head a bit but I’ve got a smile on my face [he most definitely hasn’t] because we’re through to the next round of the Cup. The boys deserved it.
Full time: Sheffield United 3 Wrexham 1
Well, that was fun. A terrific Cup tie. Sheffield United were the kings of extra time again and will host Spurs in the fifth round. Mullin was magnificent, earning two penalties but only converting one. Sheffield United held their nerve, gorged on a late error to take the lead and hit them again on the counter moments later to give the margin of victory a flattering look.
Sheffield United 3 Wrexham 1 (Berge) Superb finish as Sheffield United catch Wrexham on the break. They wanted a third penalty for a Lowe handball but the referee said no and there has been no replay yet. Ndiaye spurts up the left, makes 40 yards and threads a pass through to McAtee who eventually knocks it round the corner on the right of the box to Berge who finishes superbly with a crisp rising shot into the roof of the net.
Sheffield United 2 Wrexham 1 (Sharp) Palmer tries to shoot through two defenders instead of laying it off and the block deflected it to Norwood who arrowed a 60-yard diagonal. Cleworth went to trap it but it went through his legs and let Sharp to run on to the ball and into the box to side-foot a right-foot finish into the bottom right corner.
90+1 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
The absence of VAR robs Sheffield United of a penalty when Lee dives in to block Norwood’s shot and saves it with a raised arm. He was very close but his arms were so high. Poor refereeing from Mr Doughty who had a clear view.
90 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Berge strides down the left and picks up his head to thread a pass back through the area to the left of the D. Norwood meets it and puts his laces through it and Lee makes another fantastic block. Wrexham see off the corner at the back post.
The fourth official signals six minutes of stoppage time.
88 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Sharp turns the ball past Lainton with a neat finish from Norwood’s cross but had strayed half a yard offside.
86 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Dharp chests down Basham’s curling pass down the inside-right channel. tap it on after it bounces and then slams a shot wide.
84 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Berge’s shot from 20 yards thunders into Lee’s brave block and bobbles out for a corner. Palmer heads it away at the front post and clears Norwood’s second cross behind for another corner. Lainton punches the sequel away.
82 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
But up comes Mullin’s No10 on the substitute’s board and on run Jacob Bickerstaff and Elliot Lee who takes the place of Cannon.
80 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Mullin wants to carry on but Phil Parkinson says no … before relenting. Back on he trots.
79 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Mullin is down and needs to come off after chasing Berge back and stopping abruptly. ‘He’s tweaked it rather than torn it,’ says Dr Ally McCoist.
78 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Lainton makes a sharp save low to his right to thwart Berge and get it away from, erm, Sharp.
76 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
O’Connor replaces Lennon. Mullin, trying to help out his defence, seems to have hurt his hamstring but stretches it out and continues for now. Egan is booked for dissent.
Lowe replaces Ahmedhodzic who has had a long-running battle with Mullin.
74 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Absolutely daft challenge from Norwood to concede the second penalty, suckered into a lunge from behind after Mullin nipped ahead of him.
Davies dives to his right to slap it away. Brilliant save because it was hit by Mullin with genuine force.
For Norwood’s foul on Mullin.
70 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Some penalty box pinball in the United area after a Tozer missile is defended by Davies, Egan and Robinson in the air. But Sheffield United break once they’ve seen off the danger of the bouncing ball. Ndiaye takes it on down the left, comes inside and can’t find room to shoot so rolls it across to Norwood. He slaps a shot wide.
69 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Coulibaly makes way for Norwood.
67 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Sheffield United repel the corner and storm upfield, playing the ball up to McAtee on the right. He cuts back on to his left and spins a cross to the back post where Sharp holds off Cleworth, who has a fistful of his shirt, to head over.
65 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Great tackle from Robinson fends off a Palmer-Mullin attack at the price of a throw which Sheffield United out behind for a Wrexham corner. Egan makes the block when Jones shoots from 18 yards. Tozer will take on the long throw.
63 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Mullin wants another penalty when Palmer lays it off to him but Egan’s challenge was perfectly lawful, just easing ahead of him to win the ball. Mullin looks winded momentarily.
62 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Double Wrexham substitution: McAlinden and Palmer replace Mendy and Dalby.
60 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1
Moments before Wrexham broke to earn the penalty (VAR would have chalked it off) Sharp missed a one-on-one with the keeper after McAtee put in on a plate for him with a clever pass to 10 yards. But he scuffed it at Lainton.
Moments after the Wrexham equaliser, on comes another flare.
Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 1 (Mullin, pen) Fires it high and hard straight down the middle. He’s scored in every FA Cup game this season.
57 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 0
Wrexham penalty. Ahmedhodzic is spun by Mullin and he hauls him down. Started outside the box but there’s no VAR.
53 min Sheff Utd 1 Wrexham 0
Ahmedhodzic almost adds an assist to his goal with a fantastic outswinging cross that bends round Cleworth, Tozer and Lennon from the right but skips inches ahead of Ndiaye at the back post despite his strenuous efforts to get there.
Sheffield United 1 Wrexham 0 (Ahmedhodzic) Forde squanders an opportunity to play the ball into Mullin in a wonderful position and Sheffield United break, pouring men forward. Sharp takes it deep up the left and stands up a long cross. Ahmedhodzic can’t control it but chases it then rolls it back to Berge. He slips in McAtee who dinks a cute pass round the corner, isolating Tozer, and letting Ahmedhodzic run through on goal and fire his rising finish into the roof of the net
49 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Sheffield United repel another long throw. Tozerball.
48 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Dalby and Egan defend the long, flat throw at the front post.
47 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
No changes and Wrexham go up the right tow in a corner. Young tries to pick out Lennon but Egan reads the flight of the cross and nips ahead of him to head it out for a Tozer Howitzer throw.
Half-time Sheffield Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Sheffield United have dominated possession and territory, earning a string of corners and making numerous attempts on goal. But Lainton has had to make only a couple of saves, one of them very good. McAtee should have scored or set up Ndiaye to do so and better headers from Osborn’s excellent corners would have helped. But Wrexham are battling hard, are very game and look a threat on the break. Mullin is a proper handful, raw-boned, tenacious and skilful. If they send regular partner Palmer on in the second half it could give United’s back three less licence to join the attacks and get someone running on to Mullin’s hold-up play (or hold it up for Mullin’s runs).
45+1 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Wrexham hack away the corner after a near-post flick on and they earn a free-kick when Coulibaly wrestles with Mullin to stop him breaking upfield and following that with a lunge when the ball is laid off. But the free-kick was in vain as the ref blows his whistle as the first thrust from the Wrexham half is repelled at the 18-yard line.
45 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Berge works a shooting chance but dithers over pulling the trigger. allowing the defender to get tight enough to block it out for a corner.
43 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Mendy shimmies, stops, then hits the gas to fly past Basham down the left and whip over a near-post cross that was screeching with menace but Ahmedhodzic dealt with it solidly with Mullin bypassed at the near post.
41 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Sheffield United try a corner routine on the right, pulling the ball back for Berge on the 18-yard line with a disguised pass. But Sharp was penalised for blocking and then pushing a marker out of the way to create space for Berge to shoot. Wrexham free-kick.
39 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
From Davies’ restart, Sheffield United bomb up the left and win a corner that Osborn puts on to Egan’s brow. But the centre-half booms the header over from 12 yards.
37 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Trbucjet Tozer hurls a 25-yard throw into the box that Egan heads back out and Tozer pounces to fizz a long shot that Davies pats down and gathers on the bounce.
34 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
United have a throw-in on the right, a few yards up from the corner flag. Ndiaye breaks three tackles and then pulls it back on the half-volley for Ahmedhodzic who thumps a shot from eight yards that Lainto saves smartly. He hit it well but it was straight at him. Sharp recycles the ball and cuts in from the left on to his right, pumping a shot straight down Lainton’s throat.
32 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
What a chance for Sheffield United. Sharp makes the defensive header at the corner. At the edge of the box, back to goal, a Wrexham player tries to knock it back to Mendy but Ndiaye steals in and knocks it past the left wing-back on halfway and into the run of McAtee who has the entire half to himself save for Lainton the Wrexham keeper. He gallops through with Ndiaye in support, gets to the 18-yard line, draws the keeper and, instead of squaring it to Ndiaye for the tap in, goes to screw a left-foot shot in at the left post but spears it past instead.
The replay shows that Ndiaye had nudged ahead by the time he took the shot on, meaning he couldn’t pass as he would have been offside. But he could have played it earlier.
30 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Wrexham go direct and hit Mullin early. He cushions it skilfully, diddles Ahmedhodzic and then shoots. Egan goes down on one knee to block with his calf and divert it behind for a corner.
28 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
From the goal-kick, Sheffield United win it back and feed it from left to right across the 18-yard line to McAtee who takes a touch to give him the space to wrap his left-instep around a shot but blazes over.
26 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Coulibaly, who was on loan in Belgium for a couple of seasons and has suffered from a knee injury this term, dribbles a few yards down the inside left and then makes a proper Horlicks of the shot.
24 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
United corner on the left. Egan flicks it on but Dalby beats Sharp to it and whacks it out of the box. United shift it over to the right and Berge floats a deep, diagonal cross that Sharp leaps to meet, with remarkable hang time for a man of his years, but can’t add power to the precision and Lainton takes it fairly easily.
22 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
McAtee, on loan from Manchester City, is almost found by Ndiaye’s diagonal clip into the box which he tried to flick on but misses after good link-up work between Sharp and his strike partner. Moments later McAtee takes the ball to the left of the D, tacks left and slices a left-foot shot wide.
19 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
McAtee sends Sharp down the left to arc a cross to the far post. Tozer gets just enough on it to take it away from Ndiaye.
17 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Wrexham are not cowed by their lack of possession and try to make the most of every opportunity to pile forward and get numbers up in support of Mullin and Dalby.
Both Sam Matterface and Ally McCoist have characterised Paul Heckingbottom’s Sheffield United as ‘working hard with and without the ball’. Avid Square Ball podcast listeners no doubt.
15 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
The home side are doing really well up the left and Robinson combines with Coulibaly to send Osborn pelting down the left again. He picks his head up and arrows a cross towards the far post that Lennon and Tozer see off.
13 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
A second Sheffield United corner on the left. This one is clipped deeper and Egan meets it with a downward header. Lainton gobbles it up.
11 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
From the defended corner Wrexham bolt upfield with Mullin, Dalby and Mendy to the fore but they lose possession again with a wayward cross and Sheffield United hare back upfield and Sharp again just fails to play in McAtee, delaying the pass too long.
9 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Osborn takes the corner and Robinson meets it flush, powering a header that is blocked by Cleworth.
7 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Robinson comes down the left, plays a one-two with McAtee and whips over a cross that Lennon slides in to thump behind for a corner.
5 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
United have had the majority of possession and rea probing merrily away down the sides of the Wrexham penalty area with Basham on the overlap down the right as usual.
3 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Mendy goes on a barnstorming run up the left, the wing-back taking in 70 yards after winning the ball but loses it by the United 18-yard line and they break at lightning pace, forcing the ball back up to the Wrexham penalty box where Sharp only just fails to thread it through to Ndiaye.
1 min Sheff Utd 0 Wrexham 0
Bramall Lane gives us the Greasy Chip Butty as Sheffield United kick off, attacking from right to left, kicking towards the away end but run into congestion and give away a throw-in on the Wrexham left.
The teams are in the tunnel
Sheffield United in their red and white stripes and black shorts, Wrexham in pale rather than light blue.
A nice chat here with Bryn Law
Paul Heckingbottom on his five changes
It’s another tough one. Both teams are second in the league so we have other priorities. We need to be much more on the front foot, more aggressive. We know we have to defend our box but when we get the opportunities we have to take them. We’ll be using the bench heavily. If we could have made more changes we would have because of the schedule we have coming up but we’re light at the moment. It’s not me disrespecting the Cup.
Phil Parkinson on his seven changes
A couple of changes were enforced by injuries and one player being Cup-tied. Freshness can be important. We fully respect Sheffield United but we’re here to go at them. I believ we can create opportunities against them. We’re best when we play in that manner. We embrace it, enjoy the break for the league and give our 4,700 fans something to cheer.
Your teams in black and white
Sheffield United Davies, Basham, Ahmedhodzic, Egan, Robinson, Osborn, Berge, Coulibaly, McAtee, Ndiaye, Sharp.
Substitutes Foderingham, Lowe, Norwood, Clark, Arblaster, Brooks, Marsh, Starbuck.
Wrexham: Lainton, Forde, Cleworth, Tozer, Lennon, Mendy, Young, Jones, Cannon, Mullin, Dalby.
Substitutes Watson, James, Butler, Hosannah, McAlinden, O’Connor, Lee, Palmer, Bickerstaff.
Referee Leigh Doughty (Lancashire).
Sam Dalby partners Paul Mullin up front for Wrexham
Ismaila Coulibaly makes his first Blades’ start
Preview: only one shot at a giantkilling?
Good evening and welcome to live coverage of the fourth round FA Cup replay between Sheffield United and Wrexham following their thrilling 3-3 draw at the Racecourse. One of the great FA Cup themes is that lower league, and particularly non-League sides have one shot at giantkilling. If the higher league team manages to claw their way back to parity – as John Egan’s 95th-minute equaliser did for the Blades – generally the replay goes their way, as Wrexham know only too well having held Championship Brighton away at the third round stage in 2011-12 before losing the replay on penalties. In 2007-08, though, Conference South side Havant & Waterlooville from the sixth tier battered League One Swansea 4-2 in a third round replay and earned a trip to Anfield in the fourth round. The prize tonight for Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, or Sheffield United’s prospective new owner Dozy Mmobuosi, is a home tie against Spurs.
Wrexham’s 2-1 victory over Altrincham on Saturday kept them in second place in the National League, three points behind but with two games in hand on leaders Notts County with 18 matches to play. Phil Parkinson, whose promotion charge has been spearheaded by the 34 goals shared by Paul Mullin and Olly Palmer, has challenged his players to show that they deserve to compete at Football League level, the status they are so desperate to regain 13 years after dropping into non-League.
“The Cup is just a bonus, helping raise the profile of the club and players,” said Parkinson. “I think a lot of players have shown they can live in that company and now the challenge is for them to show they have the consistency to do it not just in one-off games. It’s a great opportunity to play at a terrific stadium and test ourselves again.”
Sheffield United, second in the Championship and enjoying a 10-point cushion to the play-off places beneath them, are brimming with confidence, as their resurgent manager Paul Heckingbottom told the Sheffield Star. “At our place, the whole dynamic will change,” he said. “It’s different now, totally different.
“We knew what we were going to face over there, and barring a 15-minute spell, I thought we coped with it really well. We understood what we were going to be up against. But the situation has changed now.
“We’ll come into this match with all of the same principles we would for a Championship game. We’ll need those because we know what Wrexham are going to bring. They’ll come in their numbers but, like I say, I think the feel at our place will be different now.”