Wrexham's FA Cup dream comes unstuck at hands of Blackburn's young stars

Sondre Tronstad of Blackburn Rovers celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 4-1 during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Blackburn Rovers and Wrexham at Ewood Park on January 29, 2024 in Blackburn, England
Sondre Tronstad put the tie beyond doubt just before the hour mark - Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt

The Hollywood meets “Tinseltoon” headlines will have to wait. For half an hour, Wrexham and their showbiz owners were daring to dream of a glamour fifth round meeting with Newcastle United at the Racecourse Ground.

It would have been only the second time in 43 years that Wrexham had reached that stage of the FA Cup but Blackburn Rovers and their in-demand forwards had other ideas.

Two goals from Sammie Szmodics and one for Sam Gallagher saw the Championship club come from behind to lead 3-1 before midfielder Sondre Tronstad completed the romp in the second half.

Szmodics, who now has 21 goals for the campaign, is interesting Crystal Palace while Gallagher has already been the subject of two failed bids from Premier League promotion chasers Ipswich Town this month and it is easy to see why.

For Blackburn’s manager, Jon Dahl Tomasson, victory also sets up a reunion with his former club Newcastle, where he spent the 1997/98 season as a player. “When we saw the draw I was thinking about the Champions League [tie] with Barcelona, which we won 3-2, so I thought it would be nice to see my former club here,” Tomasson said.

After Szmodics had missed a golden chance to put Blackburn in front after just three minutes, Wrexham took the lead when Andrew Cannon slammed home a fine finish from just inside the penalty area.

The 7,328 travelling Wrexham fans revelled in the moment and if Aynsley Pears had not pulled off a fine double save to deny Cannon and then James McClean on the rebound four minutes later this could have turned into a memorable Cup upset. Instead, their jubilation would prove relatively short-lived.

After Szmodics levelled for Blackburn, Gallagher put the hosts ahead two minutes later and by the time Szmodics claimed his second in first half stoppage time there was suddenly a long way back for Phil Parkinson’s side.

Wrexham's Andy Cannon celebrates scoring their side's first goal of the game during the Emirates FA Cup fourth round match at Ewood Park, Blackburn
Andy Cannon's early goal gave Wrexham hope at Ewood Park - PA/Martin Rickett

Wrexham’s fortunes have been transformed by the Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney but the only stars in the ascendency here were those of Szmodics and Gallagher. Szmodics, whose movement was superb, now has five goals in the Cup this season after his hat-trick against Cambridge in the previous round, making him the competition’s joint top scorer with Brighton’s Joao Pedro.

“I’m pleased to see Sammy scoring more goals,” Tomasson said. “He’s now the top scorer in the Championship and also the FA Cup which is great.”

Blackburn released a statement last week allaying supporter concerns about the club’s funding after a court case in India involving owners Venky’s. But they could struggle to keep the likes of Szmodics and Gallagher out of the clutches if they keep delivering like this. Midfielder Adam Wharton was also the subject of an improved bid from Palace in the lead up to the game after an £18m offer was rejected last week.

Szmodics did not allow his early miss to affect him as he equalised before a clever piece of play from Gallagher unpicked Wrexham’s flat-footed defenders. Flicking a long throw-in past Ben Tozer, Gallagher tore away before finishing coolly past Arthur Okonkwo. “We all know how important he [Gallagher] is to this team,” Tomasson said.

Szmodics scored his second after latching on to a fine long ball from Tronstad and firing low into the bottom corner. Tronstad then got on the scoresheet himself when he blasted into the top corner after the ball fell kindly following a tackle by Gallagher.

“We had a great chance to make it 2-0 and it could have been a different story,” Parkinson said. “But you’ve got to credit Szmodics and Gallagher, they are two top class, very clinical strikers.”

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