Wrexham progress to the fourth round of the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup, after winning 6-5 on penalties, following a 1-1 draw in normal time against Scotland’s Ayr United.
It took 70 minutes, but Bickerstaff’s swivelled half volley handed Wrexham a late lead.
With Wrexham looking to see out the game, Sam Roscoe found an equaliser from close range to send the game to penalties.
With all five penalties being scored for both sides, Luke McCowan missed in sudden-death, allowing Jake Lawlor to win the cup tie for Wrexham.
Wrexham made ten changes from the draw against Maidenhead United on Tuesday night, with only Ben Tollitt keeping his place.
Bryan Hughes decided to blend some youth into the first eleven, with Max Cleworth and Bickerstaff named in the starting line-up. Doug Tharme also started, after being recalled from his loan spell at Telford United.
The bench was filled with young character, with the likes of Bobby Beaumont and Lewis Parry being called up.
Dawid Szczepaniak got the nod over Christian Dibble in goal, as he looked to impress Bryan Hughes.
The sides kicked off and Wrexham were playing three at the back, which Hughes had trialled in pre-season. Paul Rutherford and Jazzi Barnum-Bobb looked to operate the ‘flying’ full-back regions.
The Scottish side started brighter five minutes in, with some quick, sharp football.
Tollitt began to grow into the game, providing the home fans with a surging run and lovely cut through ball, which Rutherford almost latched onto, but the Ayr United keeper pounced on the ball quickly.
‘The Honest Men’ were forced into a substitution early on as Aaron Muirhead picked up a niggle in his leg. Finn Ecrepont came on to replace him in the 15th.
Leighton McIntosh was the next Wrexham player to go on a run, and his cross was almost steered into the net off the head of Ayr United’s Andy Geggan in the 17th.
McIntosh was through again in the 19th, but he scuffed his shot well wide of Ellis Hare-Reid’s post. The Wrexham forward wasn’t done there as two minutes later he got his head onto the end of a cross, but he fired it down into the side-netting.
After a bright start, Ayr United came back at Wrexham, forcing Szczepaniak to punch straight out to Michael Moffat, whose single effort was somehow blocked multiple times by the ‘Red Wall’ in the 23rd minute.
Bickerstaff was the next Wrexham player to fire wide from close range after being set through by Devonte Redmond, following his counter-attacking run 28 minutes in.
The Scottish side were starting to build up some pressure through crossing, but the ‘Red Wall’ held strong.
Moffat was attempting to dictate play, as his faint into the Wrexham box surprised our defence, resulting in Szczepaniak having to make a save high at his near-post in the 35th.
Wrexham’s response brought about pandemonium in the Ayr United box. Hare-Reid fumbled under McIntosh’s pressure, allowing Tollitt to show off his great footwork and have his shot cleared off the line by Luke McCowan.
Captain Ross Docherty sighted up a long-ranger, but his attempt ended up in the empty stand behind the goal. Alan Forrest tried to be his successor, but his shot ended up over the crossbar too, with 45 minutes on the clock.
The first half ended 0-0, with ‘The Honest Men’ playing the better football, but Wrexham were creating chances on the counter-attack.
There were early scares after the restart for Wrexham as Ecrepont and Kris Doolan both had dangerous efforts, which eventually led to a harmless corner.
Wrexham turned that harmless corner into a chance, as Bickerstaff galloped down the wing onto his own through ball. Tollitt was in acres of space in the middle, but by the time the ball was crossed in, McCowan had recovered for Ayr United to clear the ball away.
Barnum Bobb showed great strength in the 53rd minute to hold off and swivel past two Ayr United players. He then released Bickerstaff with an exquisite through ball, but the young forward couldn’t find McIntosh or the far corner of the goal.
Ayr United were starting to look dangerous in the second half, with some slick play, but they lacked the crucial final-ball to break the deadlock.
Forrest gave Rutherford a challenge in the 65th, with some quick feet to give him room and shoot. Once again for Ayr United, the shot was blazed over.
Following some pressure, Wrexham broke away and Bickerstaff found himself with some room in the box. His swivelled half volley nestled into the bottom corner. 1-0 Wrexham with 70 minutes on the clock.
McCowan attempted to bring his side back on level terms in the 72nd minute, but his drilled effort smashed into the advertising boards beside the goal.
After a quiet 15 minutes, Szczepaniak produced a good save off the head of Forrest. The resulting corner however, was converted by Roscoe, who couldn’t miss at the far post. The scores were level with five minutes left before penalties.
Wrexham couldn’t get back on the front-foot towards the end of the game and had to survive some heavy pressure from Ayr United.
‘The Honest Men’ came so close to winning the match in the final moments, as Forrest’s effort straightened and went wide at the angle.
Referee Steven Gregg called for full time and sighs filled the Racecourse Ground, as the cup tie went to penalties.
Ayr United went first in the penalty shootout at the empty University stand.
Every player had converted leaving the scores level in the shootout at 4-4. Forrest then stepped up and slotted away his penalty, leaving all the pressure with Adam Barton.
Barton tucked away his penalty with comfort sending the game to sudden-death.
McCowan who had had a brilliant game stepped up next. Szczepaniak guessed correctly and saved the penalty setting Wrexham up to take the win.
Lawlor who had also had a magnificent game stepped up next for Wrexham. Hare-Reid guessed correctly but pushed the ball into the other side of the net, handing Wrexham the win in the 3rd round of the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup.
Rules: Both sides were allowed seven substitutes and penalties were to be taken if the scores were level after 90 minutes. Wrexham are representing the Vanarama National League in this competition.
Wrexham (3-4-2-1): Szczepaniak (gk), Barnum-Bobb, Lawlor, Tharme (Beaumont 86’), Cleworth, Rutherford ©, Barton, Redmond (Jones 80’), Tollitt, Bickerstaff, McIntosh (Williams 72’).
Subs not used: Dibble (gk), Huxley, Parry, Robinson-Murray.
Ayr United: (4-4-1-1): Hare-Reid, Muirhead (Ecrepont 15’), Kerr, Roscoe, Geggan, Moffat, Doolan (McKenzie 72’), Forrest, McCowan, Bell, Docherty.
Subs not used: Graham (gk).
Referee: Steven Gregg (N ireland)
Wrexham: Burnham-Bobb (89, foul)
Ayr United: Docherty (55, ungentlemanly conduct)