Wrexham were denied a Hollywood ending at the death on Tuesday night when a breakaway goal in added time killed their hopes of defeating a side three divisions above them.
Wrexham’s Paul Mullin, whose had put the North Wales team level a converting a penalty he won, could not repeat the feat and Sheffield United capitalised, with Billy Sharp scoring on a breakaway and Sander Berge adding a second.
It wasn’t quite the wall of noise that North Wales took to Coventry for the Third Round but the sounds was emphatic enough and spoke to the confidence that Reynolds and McElhenney have engendered in a club which had turned out the lights and wondered what the future held, when the they arrived.
The Welsh contingent sang of promotion, climbing the pyramid, though the thought of a Fifth Round tie with Tottenham has been the talk of their community all week. Harry Kane at the Racecourse. Well, that really would be documentary gold for the club that has brought us ‘Welcome to Wrexham.
Wrexham manager Phil Parkinson had more prosaic considerations: winning National League, with ‘play-offs’ the term that dare not speak its name for this club after such a wretched attempt to win them.
It was the non-league club’s manager making most of the changes – fully seven changes from the side which had won at Altrincham on Saturday and resting his first choice goalkeeper. Promotion is so pivotal to Reynolds and McElhenney’s ambitions but proving obstinately tough.
Their team have won 21 out of 28 games, yet still trail Notts County by three points. A Fifth Round game would have meant a third rescheduling of a pivotal clash with Chesterfield.
They began brightly despite the changes, with left wingback Jacob Mendy – who helped take Boreham Wood to a fifth round tie at Everton last season – a real danger, driving forward and looking to supply Paul Mullin, the other consistently dangerous first half threat for Wrexham.
United manager Paul Heckingbottom made it patently clear after the sides drew 3-3 in the first game that he would be taking no chances in the replay. He had seemed irritated about a build-up which the sixth tier dominated, with Reynolds in the building.
Iliman Ndiaye played from the start this time and provided the first half’s two outstanding chance which should have put the game out of sight. The Frenchman seized on a weak pass to Mendy and crashed a pass which sent James McAtee sprinting through on Rob Lainton in Wrexham’s goal but he struck the ball wide of the left post.
Ndiaye then delivered a ball from a tight space in the penalty box which gave Anel Ahmedhodzic a clear chance to shoot but Lainton saved sharply. United cursed that profligacy, with Wrexham’s two tight, close defensive lines hard to penetrate and chances hard to come by.
Wrexham, a club 72 places below their hosts in the pyramid, rode their luck, with Mullin drawing defenders deep and looking to spin off them in a performance which underlined how he could operate at least two divisions higher than his current level.
He raced through to exchange passes with strike partner Sam Dalby and take aim, though John Egan managed to nick the ball away.
United were ahead five minutes into the second half though. Chris Basham, playing his 500th career appearance, gathered a ball that Mendy had just headed away to set in train a sharp exchange of possession between Ben Osborn and Ahmedhodzic.
The Bosnian was not tracked as he ran into the right side of the home side’s box and crashed the ball into the top of Lainton’s net. It was a superb conclusion to an excellent move. The precision, movement and imagination was just too much for Wrexham to deal with.
United again had the chance to wrap it up when McAtee managed to miss again, with the goal at his mercy after Sharp played him in, and Wrexham were level with a minute.
The penalty which brought them back was questionable.
Ahmedhodzic was clearly pulling Mullin’s shirt as he tried to accelerate beyond him but the infringement seemed to have occurred on the edge of the box, not in it.
Mullin simply stepped up and crashed the spot kick into the top of Adam Davies. Jack Robinson’s tussle with Mullin in the box a few minutes later seemed a more legitimate penalty call.
The second he won was legitimate. Substitute Oliver Norwood hacked at him as made to receive a ball floated into the left side of the box. The penalty, to Davies left as he looked, was emphatic but the keeper launched himself at it to parry away.
United threw everything at a winner and Lainton capped a fine performance by throwing himself down at a header from Robinson.
But a slip by Max Cleworth allowed Sharp to race through to score in the 94th minute and Berge was played in by Osborn to finish things.