Wrexham v Notts County was a season defining game, and Ben Foster’s double handed penalty save in the 97th minute of the game, gave Wrexham the advantage in the race for top spot.
The eyes of the world were on this Easter Monday fixture, with both sides sitting on 100 points in the National League.
Wrexham have had a multitude of big games at the Racecourse Ground in recent years and the buzz surrounding this game filled the city with an eager adrenalin.
Wrexham’s game plan was as clear as day in the first half. Threaded long balls were constantly played in-behind the Notts County backline, setting Paul Mullin and Ollie Palmer away. However, the linesman’s flag agonisingly went up for most of the through balls, leaving Wrexham fans exacerbated.
Despite this, it was an even contest to begin, with both styles of play going head-to-head, waiting for one to cave first.
It would be a set-piece goal to break the deadlock though, with John Bostock scoring for the first time since the 2016/17 season in the fourth minute of first half added time, with the referee awarding the foul just outside the Wrexham box, due to Rúben Rodrigues tripping himself up.
An unstoppable free-kick, forcing Wrexham to enter half-time a goal behind with a sour taste in their mouths. They had stifled Notts County to great effect, and had success in getting in-behind, yet found themselves a goal down at the break.
Phil Parkinson spoke after the loss to Halifax Town exclaiming that they didn’t respond in the Wrexham way... it's unarguable that they certainly did this time.
James Jones laid off a pass to Ryan Barnett on the right-wing, before moving forward. All three Notts County men were ball watching, allowing Barnett to chip through his pass into open territory. Jones, with acres of time, then spread the ball across the edge of the box into the direction of Mullin. Shrugging off a weak Geraldo Bajrami, Mullin then swept the ball into the back of the County net with 49 minutes on the clock.
Sadly, the crossbar would deny Wrexham another hour mark goal, but Jacob Mendy would be on hand to push Wrexham into the lead just ten minutes later.
O’Connell’s free-kick inside the Wrexham half caught County's left-side napping again, and Mullin was through on the right-wing. The Magpies’ right-side were also slow off the mark, giving Mendy all the room in the world to smash Mullin’s cross into the back of the net and ignite the Racecourse Ground’s roar!
The noise appeared to wake County up, as they created two instant goal worthy opportunities, forcing Ben Foster into two heroic saves. He would be helpless for the third chance though, as Matt Palmer’s cross found the head of a diving Kyle Cameron in the 75th minute, equalling the score at two goals apiece.
A sudden equaliser after the joyous scenes of taking the lead... there was an eerie déjà vu feeling to the play-off semi-final against Grimsby Town last year.
But the Wrexham response came once more, after yet another County error.
Just three minutes later, another chipped through ball would sail over into the right-wing, and yet again, the Notts County left-side were asleep.
O’Connell chased his own ball this time to cross from the right-wing into the box. The ball fell to Bajrami, who was all too relaxed, trying to flick the ball back to a non-existent County player. Mullin was very much there though, and awake, as he assessed the scene before setting Elliot Lee. The rest was history, as Lee caressed the ball past Sam Slocombe to send Wrexham back into the lead.
The game was fading away and it felt like maybe this wouldn’t completely resemble the tit-for-tat nature of the Grimsby Town game.
With the sound of the final whistle being eagerly anticipated, the County threat had been cleared from the Wrexham box, but hearts would soon sink, as referee Scott Tallis had in fact awarded a penalty.
O’Connell had tried to double-back to put Macaulay Langstaff under pressure from Bajarami’s deceiving cross, but his arm instead made contact with the ball and the Grimsby Town eeriness transformed into flashbacks from the 3-3 draw to Sheffield United.
With full-time seconds away, Wrexham would appear to fall short of the win.
Langstaff and his 41 league goals weren’t to be the threat from this scenario, but his counterpart Cedwyn Scott.
Foster later said he knew where Scott was going to place his penalty due to his run-up, and this was evident in his crucial early movement to his right to acrobatically push the ball from one hand to the other and save the penalty.
Eighteen years to the day of the famous LDV Vans Trophy Final, Foster had double-handedly saved the three points for Wrexham, sending us three points clear at the top with a game in hand.
The games against Grimsby Town and Sheffield United would not shadow this one; Wrexham would come out on top.
The second half persistence to target the County left-side and punish their errors were vital in securing the win.
Despite the poor defending in the five minutes after Mendy’s goal, the Wrexham backline were exceptional. To keep Langstaff quiet for the entirety of the game was an incredible achievement from O’Connell, Ben Tozer and Tom O’Connor.
This was O’Connor’s first start after a spell out injured, but one simply couldn’t tell. His know-how to decide when to drop and when to be aggressive and intercept is a precious quality in football.
Mullin ending the game with a goal and two assists once again showcased his never-ending effect on every game he plays, but especially the high-stake games.
The reaction of the whole squad at full-time shows the togetherness of this Wrexham team too, as seven points are now required from four games to secure the title, with Barnet away coming this Saturday.