WREXHAM won a dramatic marathon penalty shoot-out at the Racecourse last night to edge out TNS and march into the final of the FAW Premier Cup.
No fewer than 18 spot-kicks following two gruelling hours of football were needed to settle the outcome of an enthralling battle which the Welsh Premier champions could count themselves extremely unfortunate to lose.
They more than matched the League Two side throughout, twice taking the lead in normal time before cult figure Juan Ugarte, back for his third spell at the Racecourse, rescued the Dragons with an 89th minute equaliser to take the match into extra time.
Trinidad international Dennis Lawrence then put the home side in front for the first time in the 101st minute, but a mistake four minutes later by goalkeeper Mike Ingham enabled defender Steve Evans to level the tie once more with a perfectly judged lob from 30 yards into an empty net.
The runaway leaders of the Welsh Premier last visited the Racecourse in July when they entertained European champions Liverpool and won praise for their performance in a 3-0 defeat.
But they fancied their chances a little more against the Dragons and had plenty of fans cheering them on in an evenlybalanced opening spell.
As in the quarter-final at Newport County the previous week, Wrexham were grateful for the reflexes of goal-keeper Mike Ingham. With only nine minutes played Mike Jackson's right-wing cross was met at the far post by Jamie Wood, whose header was turned away by the Northern Ireland international.
It was a rare opening, with neither side able to stamp their authority on the game, although Wrexham, as was to be expected, had the better of possession.
But they had to wait until the 24th minute for their first real chance, Dean Bennett winning a corner on the right. Lawrence helped on Alex Smith's kick and loan signing Sam Williams saw his effort pushed up in the air by keeper Gerard Doherty before defender Steve Evans completed the clearance.
Six minutes later Smith fed the ball through to Jon Walters, who appeared to be tripped in the area by John Beck, but referee Mark Whitby was not impressed. As the home side kept up the pressure Andy Holt cut in from the left to drive a wayward effort across the face of Doherty's goal.
TNS soaked up everything that came their way with admirable composure, keeping their shape and matching their opponents for passing and movement when possible. And more importantly, they took advantage of an horrendous defensive lapse to take the lead six minutes before the break.
There seemed little danger when Graham Evans knocked a hopeful cross into the penalty area. Bayliss apparently tried to cushion the ball back to Ingham, but instead steered it into the path of Scott Ruscoe, who drilled a low shot past the keeper from 12 yards.
Wrexham's answer as the teams changed round was to send on Ugarte - given a rousing reception by the home supporters - at the expense of teenager Williams, who had struggled to make an impression in the first half.
But the Dragons also needed a far greater degree of urgency and pace in a bid to force an error from their well drilled opponents and could little afford the luxury of a wild swing from Lawrence, whose shot from inside the area flew high over the bar.
The home side then had to reshuffle, losing both Bennett and Walters to injury. They were replaced by Simon Spender and Shaun Pejic, who went into the back-line while the giant Trinidad international was sent forward alongside Ugarte.
The switch had little immediate impact because it is not for nothing that TNS have gained a reputation as the meanest defensive outfit in their league, although Mark Jones was a little unfortunate when his first-time volley from Pejic's pass flew straight at the goalkeeper.
There were more problems for the home side when Holt had to leave the field for stitches to a head wound, returning heavily bandaged, but it could have been worse had not Steve Beck fired wide with the Wrexham goal at his mercy after 73 minutes.
Three minutes later Chris King protected the visitors' lead with a fine goal-line clearance to deny Danny Williams and Lawrence then put a header just wide, but TNS had no answer to Wales under-21 international Jones, who volleyed a spectacular equaliser 12 minutes from the end.
The visitors responded in spirited fashion and once more regained the lead when Nicky Ward fired them back in front in the 86th minute before Ugarte gave the Dragons their extra-time lifeline.
MAN OF THE MATCH : Jim Whitley. Worked tirelessly in midfield for the Dragons.
WREXHAM : Ingham; Bayliss, D Williams, Lawrence; Bennett (Spender 52), Whitley, Mark Jones, Smith, Holt; Walters (Pejic 58), S Wiliams (Ugarte 45). Subs: Michael Jones, Crowell.
TNS: Doherty; Jackson, S Evans, Holmes (Leah 74), King; Ruscoe, Hogan, Beck, Wood; G Evans (Ward 60), Wilde (Lloyd Williams 90). Subs: Toner,L Williams
REFEREE: Mark Whitby
PENS Smith: saved, Leah: missed, Bayliss: scored, Ward: scored, Jones: saved, Evans: saved, Williams: scored, Ruscoe: scored, Ugarte: scored, Lloyd-Williams: scored, Spender: scored, Wood: scored, Lawrence: saved, Beck: missed, Whitley: saved, Jackson: saved, Pejic: scored, Doherty: saved.