WREXHAM 2, STOCKPORT COUNTY 0
Stockport County’s long unbeaten run and hopes of a treble came to an end as two late goals by Wrexham’s Paul Mullin dashed their dream of a Wembley appearance in the FA Trophy.
The semi-final defeat at the Racecourse Ground, which was watched by movie star and Wrexham co-owner Ryan Reynolds, ended a remarkable 23-match unbeaten which stretched back almost four months to December 11 and a league loss at Torquay United.
The stats were staggering as in that run they won 22 times with the only blemish a 2-2 draw against Chesterfield, since which County had strung together 11 straight wins in all competitions.
County took to the field for the lunchtime clash of the National League’s top two showing three changes from the starting line-up at Eastleigh seven days earlier.
Andy Cannon, Ollie Crankshaw, both of whom had featured in the Cheshire Cup semi-final against Crewe, and Mark Kitching were the players brought in, replacing Ryan Croasdale, Myles Hippolyte and Sam Minihan who were named among the seven substitutes permitted for the competition.
One-time County loanee Christian Dibble started between the sticks for the hosts whose bench also included another ex-Hatter Liam McAlinden.
With a couple of minutes played, the Hatters earned an early corner as Antoni Sarcevic found Liam Hogan, but the skipper, under pressure, headed beyond the far post. And five minutes later, Hogan turned provider by way of a delivery upfield that found former ‘Red Dragon’ Scott Quigley, whose header flew wide of the same upright.
The first injury of the afternoon was suffered by referee James Bell, who was unable to continue and was replaced in the middle by the fourth official, with only 10 minutes played.
The hosts, sitting second behind County in the National League and winners of the Trophy nine years previously, launched their first attack of note shortly afterwards but Ben Hinchliffe, fresh from keeping his 100th clean sheet as County’s number one the previous Saturday, comfortably smothered Mullin’s low delivery from the right.
A good County move down the left saw Ryan Johnson feed Kitching whose cross from the by-line was headed by Will Collar into the arms of Dibble. Either side of that, Wrexham shots were blocked by the Hatters, with Ash Palmer and Johnson getting in the way of respective attempts from Jordan Davies and Mullin.
Around the half hour, Sarcevic lofted an angled effort on to the roof of the net while, at the other end, Hinchliffe tipped around the left post a Mullin shot from outside the area.
With the interval imminent, the Hatters had two golden, close-range opportunities to break the deadlock, but Sarcevic scooped his over the crossbar, after Reece Hall-Johnson had cleared off the line, and Quigley’s fizzed off the outstretched foot of Dibble and past the left upright, to keep the tie evenly poised.
An early second-half free-kick for the Red Dragons constituted the first attempt on goal after the resumption, but Hinchliffe cleanly caught the dead-ball strike by Davies. And, a few minutes later, Ash Palmer executed a critical block to stop Wrexham namesake, Ollie, in his tracks.
At the home end, the influential Cannon unleashed an effort from distance that Hogan flicked on beyond the right post. And, with the game opening up, Hinchliffe parried past the far post a shot by Mullin from the left.
The end-to-end fare continued: with Aaron Hayden heading behind a cross from the right by Crankshaw, Mullin going through on goal after latching on to a Johnson back-pass but firing wide of the left post, Dibble saving with his legs from another former Wrexham player and County substitute Connor Jennings and Dibble’s opposite number Hinchliffe doing likewise with his fingertips to keep out a goal-bound Davies shot.
As added time was announced, Hinchliffe saved County again by parrying behind a shot from Hall-Johnson. But after County broke from the resulting corner on the right, the hosts regained possession on the opposite flank and Mullin lobbed the advancing Hinchliffe to put them in front.
Mullin added his, and Wrexham’s, second deep into added time, courtesy of another lob with which he then reconnected to tap home and seal the tie.
Stockport County (3-1-4-2): Hinchliffe; Hogan, Palmer, Johnson (Duffus, 90+2); Cannon (Croasdale 62); Crankshaw, Collar, Sarcevic, Kitching; Sarcevic; Quigley (Jennings 62), Madden. Subs (unused): Ashby-Hammond, Minihan, Keane, Hippolyte.
Goals: Mullin (90, 90+4) for Wrexham.
Attendance: 8,703 (1,211 visitors).
Report: Gareth Evans.