Wrexham AFC are still with a shot of becoming just the sixth non-league team to reach the FA Cup fifth round after a dramatic 3-3 draw with Sheffield United at the Racecourse Ground on Sunday. The Wales-based side play in the National League, which is the fifth tier of professional English soccer, and three levels below the Blades who they have now taken to a replay.
The game will not be replayed as such despite the use of the term “replay.” In England, specifically in cup competitions, a replay means an enforced second match at the home venue of the team that played on the road in the first game which ended tied. There is no third game as an even score will be decided beyond 90 minutes in that second fixture.
Anything below League Two, which is the fourth tier of the English game, is traditionally considered “non-league,” and Wrexham are the latest club of that standing to threaten a major upset. Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s ownership of the 158-year-old club has been controversial since their 2020 takeover but it ensured that all eyes were on the Red Dragons in the U.S.
Wrexham are by some way the underdogs in this matchup despite enjoying stronger financial backing than most at this level. However, they held their own over 90 minutes against Sheffield United and did well to come back from a deflating opening goal against them inside of the opening two minutes by Oliver McBurnie.
Wrexham’s growing popularity in the U.S. and beyond will have been aided by the spectacle which followed as an FA Cup classic played out in the second half near the English border. James Jones’ equalizer five minutes into the second half was followed by Thomas O’Connor with the go-ahead goal 11 minutes later to send the home fans wild.
That joy was short-lived for the majority of the almost 10,000-strong crowd as Oliver Norwood leveled just four minutes later for the visitors. Just six minutes later, though, there was further drama as the Blades had Daniel Jebbison sent off with a straight red card to leave them a man short for the final 20 minutes.
Wrexham’s star man Paul Mullin attracted criticism when he moved down a division to join the club despite having just scored a league-record 32 goals for Cambridge United in 2021. The 28-year-old sent the home fans into raptures when he smashed home four minutes from time for what looked to be the winning strike.
Sheffield United had other ideas, though, and broke Wrexham hearts five minutes into added time when John Egan equalized for the 10 men to earn a replay at Bramall Lane. FA Cup giants vs. comparative minnows clashes like these are what makes the competition one of the most special domestic cups in soccer and it is extremely lucrative for smaller clubs.
A near-capacity crowd plus TV coverage and a host of social media attention related to the game will have put Wrexham on the soccer map a bit more for those previously unfamiliar with them. In forcing a replay, Phil Parkinson’s men now have to travel to Sheffield to play the second leg away from home for a chance to reach the fifth round. That game will take place on Feb. 7-8.
Premier League giants Arsenal and Liverpool have already fallen this season and Wrexham held their own against a side that could be in the top flight come next campaign. It is a tall order to win away at the Blades given that they have only been beaten twice on home turf all term, but Sunday’s spirited showing gives Wrexham hope as they bid to write a small piece of history.