A penalty shootout determined Wrexham’s exit from the Carabao Cup, as Bradford City edged through to the Third Round.
Ahead of kick-off, fans were greeted with the pleasing news that Aaron Hayden would be starting, for a first competitive fixture since Sheffield United at home in January. James McClean also returned to feature as a substitute in this cup tie; an undoubted bonus.
It was the worst possible start though, as Benjamin Speedie awarded a penalty in the second minute for a supposed foul on Jamie Walker. Hayden had won the ball after a spearing run to intercept the danger, but a spot-kick was the referee’s conclusion.
Tyler Smith then stroked his penalty past Mark Howard in goal to give the Bantams an early lead in the cup tie.
There was to be no instant reaction from Wrexham to this goal, to the credit of the visitors, as they closed down spaces quickly to prevent the Red Dragons from progressing up the pitch.
However, back-to-back chances would arise from Luke Young’s corner kicks towards the end of the half. With Ben Tozer firstly heading against the crossbar, and then Sam Dalby forcing Harry Lewis into a smart reactive save, to stop the ball from bouncing into goal through his legs.
Jake Bickerstaff was next up to have a shot on goal, and although it curved wide, chances were starting to come for Wrexham as they ended the half well.
These chances wouldn’t transgress into the start of the second half though, as the Bantams looked to play on the counter.
Bradley Halliday’s effort was the epitomy of this, as he should have doubled the visitors’ lead in the 63rd minute. A swift counter saw him burst ahead of McClean from the middle of the park, whereby he subsequently dragged his shot wide of Howard’s far-post, giving Wrexham a lifeline.
Will Boyle once again looked impressive, and whilst resisting a proposed wrestling match in the 72nd minute, headed home his second goal of the season from a Young corner.
Wrexham had begun to pen in Bradford at this point, and the threat of being hit on the counter seemed to dwindle.
However, the Red Dragons couldn’t muster up any significant chances, even with the bombardment of crosses into the Bradford box.
Penalties would be the deadlock breaker for this fixture, just as was for the previous tie against Wigan Athletic.
With the Bantams taking first and Young agonisingly placing his penalty wide, Wrexham would be playing catch-up for the rest of the shootout.
Daniel Oyegoke had the game in his hands to win at four-three, but his uninspiring kick down the middle was a comfortable save for Howard, even despite his dive to the right.
James Jones would still need to convert his penalty to take the game to sudden death, and a decisive dive from Lewis allowed him to extend his arm to firmly push the ball out from the bottom right corner, and thus knocked Wrexham out of the Carabao Cup.
It’s always more heartbreaking bowing out of a competition on penalties, but Wrexham’s comeback and control of the game towards the end made the defeat hurt just that bit more.
There were more positives to take though, with the improved performance and control over large parts of the game, as outlined by Phil Parkinson in his post match interview.
Focus now shifts back to the league, where Tranmere Rovers await, this Saturday lunchtime.