Wrexham AFC — House Targaryen of the National League and harnessing the ability, with the blessing of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, to transform an FA Cup fourth qualifying round match to a global spectacle on ESPN — have been forced into a replay in the world's oldest football competition by the part-time players of Blyth Spartans.
The rallying cry on Welcome to Wrexham of "historic club! pictorial town! hard-working folk!" was met head-on by Blyth, which competes in the sixth-tier but was founded 123 years ago in North East England (13 miles from Newcastle). The club's historic Croft Park was packed Saturday, and some of these characters clearly deserve their own part in a show about an unassuming football club.
Watching Wrexham is a strange experience. As the match began on ESPN, all the newly minted Wrexham supporters were welcomed to the broadcast. Am I a Wrexham fan? That must be the case — why else would I be up at 6:30 a.m. with this on the TV? I feel uncomfortable, a sycophant to Hollywood A-listers who want me to buy Aviation American Gin.
On the pitch, the opening half-hour sees Blyth take the ascendency behind its home support while Wrexham struggles to connect. In the 40th minute, the match commentators, taking a break from talking about the weather, tell me to watch Welcome to Wrexham with all episodes available now on Hulu. Maybe I'm not here to cheer for Wrexham. Maybe there's an even greater joy in cheering against Wrexham. I mean, it feels like Phil Parkinson has slapped us all in the face by leaving Paul Mullin on the bench.
Also there's a lot to like about Blyth. They're pushed forward by JJ O’Donnell in a tucked-in No. 10 shirt. The 30-year-old is either providing the skill or effusing sentiments of "fawking hell!" throughout the ground.
In the second half, the home team starts to build a sustained period of pressure after the hour mark. Around the 70th minute, a couple big blocks from Wrexham defenders are followed by a flying save from keeper Mark Howard.
Reynolds and McElhenney must've been fearing the worst, but in the 76th minute, against the run of play, a Tom O'Connor free kick took a huge deflection off a Blyth defender in the wall and wrong-footed the keeper for an improbable Wrexham advantage.
Tom O'Connor's free kick is deflected in to give Wrexham the lead pic.twitter.com/kG0FTw0oKR— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) October 15, 2022
The first round beckoned, but in the 90th minute, Blyth got a deserved equalizer to send Croft Park into raptures.
BLYTH EQUALIZE LATE AGAINST WREXHAM pic.twitter.com/9dbhfnyM6C— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) October 15, 2022
The replay will be Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham, Wales. Hopefully ESPN commits to the bit and broadcasts that one on TV.