Grimsby Town booked their place in the National League Promotion Final as they overcame Wrexham by the odd goal in nine in an incredible semi-final at the Racecourse Ground.
After their last-minute heroics at Notts County on Monday, the Mariners once again showed their never-say-die attitude to triumph in north Wales and once again, extra time was needed as the 90 minutes ended with the teams locked at 4-4.
Paul Mullin put the hosts ahead from the penalty spot against the run of play but Town were behind for less than two minutes until a spectacular strike from John McAtee levelled the scores.
It remained that way at half-time but the visitors were quick out of the blocks in the second half and Luke Waterfall put them ahead two minutes in.
But Wrexham turned the game around as quickfire goals from Ben Tozer and Mullin put them in front at 3-2.
Town refused to be beaten and Ryan Taylor made it 3-3 but there was still drama to come as substitute Emmanuel Dieseruvwe restored the away side’s advantage, only for Jordan Davies to rescue the hosts and send the tie to an additional 30 minutes.
It looked like penalties would be needed to separate the sides but with the clock ticking down, Waterfall got his head to a Jordan Cropper long throw to strike the decisive blow and send Town into the showpiece at the London Stadium on Sunday, June 5.
Grimsby were unchanged after Monday’s similarly dramatic victory at Notts County, with goalkeeper Max Crocombe behind a defence of Jordan Cropper, Andy Smith, Waterfall and Danny Amos. Erico Sousa, Ben Fox, Gavan Holohan and Harry Clifton were the midfielders, with McAtee supporting Taylor in attack.
There was one alteration on the bench, as Arjan Raikhy replaced Giles Coke. The Aston Villa loanee was joined among the substitutes by Shaun Pearson, Tristan Abrahams, Dieseruvwe and Jordan Maguire-Drew.
Wrexham were looking to get over the disappointment of losing last week’s FA Trophy final to Bromley by bouncing back and winning through to the promotion final.
They boasted the twin threat in attack of former Mariners loanee Ollie Palmer and the National League’s top scorer, Mullin.
A capacity crowd greeted the teams before kick-off and McAtee won an early corner for the Mariners, which was eventually cleared after a smart short-corner routine.
A long throw into the penalty area from Cropper was also dealt with, before McAtee had the ball in the net but the offside flag meant there would be no celebrations.
Town’s positive start continued with another Cropper long throw from the right on six minutes, although Taylor was penalised for a foul as he jumped to meet it with a header.
Wrexham’s first attack of note saw a free kick headed on by Palmer but the ball ran through to Crocombe.
At the other end, another corner came on 11 minutes and it was headed just over the bar by Taylor as the Mariners continued to make the early running.
But the momentum suddenly changed when Mullin went through the middle and was pulled down by Waterfall inside the box. After taking a moment to consider his decision, referee Adam Herczeg pointed to the spot and MULLIN stepped up to blast Wrexham into the lead, with his penalty crashing into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
Town’s response was immediate though and they were behind for less than two minutes, as McATEE got the ball 25 yards out and smashed an unstoppable drive into the top corner to make it 1-1, silencing the noisy home crowd.
Wrexham were straight back on the attack and Bryce Hosannah forced a good save out of Crocombe, who tipped the low shot around his post for a corner. The flag-kick was cleared out to the home left, from where a cross was caught by the keeper.
A stoppage came for Tyler French to receive treatment after taking a knock in a challenge with Taylor, then Ben Tozer got a chance to use his long throw from near the corner flag. He found Mullin, who headed into the net at the far post but the referee had spotted a foul and blew for a Town free kick.
Amos was shown the first yellow card of the game for a foul on Hosannah on the home right. From it, Palmer’s header was deflected wide for a corner and the ball from the flag was headed clear.
Another home penalty appeal was turned down by the referee after Hosannah went down under a challenge from Crocombe amid a goalmouth scramble, with Luke Young booked for dissent in the aftermath.
When play restarted, a header back towards his own goal by Smith was clawed away for a corner by Crocombe and the flag-kick was scrambled away for another one as Wrexham began to turn up the pressure. This time, a foul gave the away side a free kick and a chance to get the ball away from their goal.
Taylor was shown the yellow card for a foul on French on 36 minutes after the game had entered something of a lull following the relentless pace of the opening half-hour.
McAtee fired well over the bar from distance after good play by Clifton down the left on 41 minutes, then the attacker tried his luck again two minutes later with a volley which went just wide of the near post.
Callum McFadzean won a corner at the other end in the last minute of the half but Palmer was penalised as he climbed to win the header from it and Town were handed a free kick.
Four added minutes were played and a push by Holohan on Palmer gave Wrexham a free kick near the halfway line in the second of those extra minutes. Waterfall was first to the ball from it and headed clear.
A home long throw was dealt with and Tozer went into the referee’s notebook soon afterwards when he pulled Clifton back on the halfway line. Taylor won the header from the free kick but was adjudged to have been offside.
No further chances came for either side before the half-time whistle and an entertaining first half ended with the scores level.
No changes were made before the restart and Town had a great early chance when Clifton got down the left and slipped the ball through for McAtee, although his shot was blocked by keeper Christian Dibble.
Another opportunity came seconds later as Clifton was denied by the keeper, who dived to tip his shot away for a corner on the right. Amos’ delivery was not fully dealt with and when the ball was sent back to the far post, WATERFALL was there to head it down into the net and put Town ahead.
Wrexham’s response saw them with a corner at the other end and it was put behind for another one after Palmer glanced a header across goal. This time, Town broke but a vital interception on the halfway line stopped McAtee from making further progress.
Clifton had a chance to make it 3-1 after Holohan had combined with Sousa on the right but the winger’s attempt was pushed away for a corner by Dibble. McAtee’s ball from the flag was headed back across goal by Waterfall but Wrexham cleared.
Another corner came on 56 minutes but McAtee’s delivery was headed out for a throw-in, which led to a strike by Sousa being blocked for a corner. This time, the ball from the flag was pushed away as far as Clifton, whose shot was well-blocked by Dibble.
A long throw from Tozer was dealt with on the hour, with McFadzean’s rebound also blocked, before Amos was given room to run into the box before also seeing a shot blocked.
Amos went close again soon afterwards when he flashed an effort just wide after being found by McAtee.
A first-time effort from James Jones at the other end was then deflected over for a corner and this time, the hosts made it count as the ball from the flag was headed into the net at the far post by TOZER to make it 2-2, with 28 minutes still to go.
And soon afterwards, the turnaround was complete as a long throw from Tozer was flicked on by Palmer for MULLIN to bundle in at the far post.
Town again looked to respond and a Sousa cross was cleared for a throw-in, then another throw from Cropper was caught by the keeper.
Fox stung the palms of Dibble with a shot from 25 yards, then the Mariners hauled themselves level once again as a cross from McAtee on the right was met by TAYLOR and he stooped to guide a header into the net for 3-3.
An Amos free kick was headed wide for a goal kick by Waterfall, before Dieseruvwe replaced Taylor in Town’s first change on 75 minutes.
Fox won a corner on the left and after McAtee’s short delivery, a shot from Clifton was blocked. Another corner followed and this time, DIESERUVWE was left unmarked in space at the far post to nod into the net and unbelievably, put Town ahead once again.
Wrexham looked to respond immediately and Crocombe made a good save to push Mullin’s powerful near-post drive away for a corner. And the flag-kick proved costly for the visitors, as DAVIES rose at the far post to head home for 4-4.
Palmer could only send the ball back across goal to Crocombe after meeting a cross from the left.
Sousa then won a corner but Dieseruvwe was penalised for a foul as the ball came across from it.
Davies volleyed over the bar from 20 yards as the game continued to move from end to end, before Abrahams replaced McAtee for the final three minutes.
A low cross from the home right was held by Crocombe at the second attempt, before Clifton had a chance to win it for the Mariners with a low strike that went agonisingly wide of the far post.
Crocombe then had to tip a shot over the bar for a corner at the other end, which was headed wide by Palmer.
Another home corner came as the game moved into added time and again, it was met by Palmer but once again, his header went off-target.
A long throw from Cropper was then headed wide by Waterfall, before a stoppage came when French went down with an injury.
It proved only to be an early chance for the teams to catch their breath before extra time as no further chances came when the game resumed, meaning an additional half-hour was needed in a bid to finally separate them.
Pearson came on in place of Amos for Town and Tom O’Connor replaced Max Clewerth for the hosts before the restart.
Mullin drove into the box but could not pick out a team-mate with his pull-back, then a penalty appeal was waved away by the referee when Davies went down.
A Tozer long throw from the left was dealt with, before a foul on Clifton brought a free kick on the halfway line an another flash of the referee’s yellow card. Town were unable to profit from the set piece.
Dieseruvwe sent a low shot through to Dibble, then Raikhy replaced Holohan in Grimsby’s final substitution.
A cross-shot from Cropper was diverted wide by Abrahams, before Palmer was booked for a late challenge on Smith as the first period of extra time moved into one additional minute.
No further opportunities came before the teams turned around, with both still looking for a hero to book their place in next Sunday’s showpiece at the home of West Ham United.
Jake Hyde came on in place of Palmer before the stat of the second period and a chance for Town came eight minutes in but Abrahams could only hit the side-netting from a narrow angle.
But there was still drama to come as the Mariners snatched the lead back once more with just one minute left on the clock. A long throw from Cropper was met by WATERFALL and his header found the net, sparking wild scenes among the travelling Town fans and stunned silence around the rest of the ground.
A Tozer long throw from the right brought a final opportunity for Wrexham to rescue themselves once more but Crocombe was there to claim the catch.
And that proved to be that for the home side’s chances as the Mariners held on to seal a stunning win.
They now stand just 90 minutes away from a return to the Football League and will face the winner of Sunday’s second semi-final between Solihull Moors and Chesterfield.