He’s the goalscoring talisman who Wrexham co-owner Rob McElhenney once described as the most famous footballer in the U.S. after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
He’s also regarded as “priceless” by his manager and possesses “frightening ability”, according to his captain. In a shattering blow for the newly-promoted League Two club, however, this deadly striker will also miss the start of the EFL season after suffering a punctured lung in a 3-1 victory over Manchester United in San Diego.
Paul Mullin, whose first two years at the newly-sponsored SToK Cas Rae have yielded 79 goals in 97 appearances, spent Tuesday night in a San Diego hospital after requiring oxygen on the field following a sickening collision during his side’s third game on their U.S. tour.
Just how long the 28-year-old will be out remains to be seen. He will see a specialist later today and only then will the club know the full extent of the injury, Parkinson having been told during the second half against United that the initial diagnosis was a “small” puncture.
Even that, though, is likely to cause a major headache with medical advice suggesting anyone suffering even a slight tear in the lung should not fly until it is fully healed and the lining fully sealed. This can take up to two weeks — opening up the possibility of Mullin having to stay behind when his team-mates fly home from New York on Saturday morning.
Wrexham have a further headache, in terms of whether to turn to the transfer market for a replacement before the August 5 opener against Milton Keynes Dons. Parkinson admits no decision will be taken until the severity of the damage is revealed.
“To be honest, it is too early,” said the 55-year-old. “It will be tomorrow morning before the specialist sees him. We will assess things and find out the extent of the injury and then make decisions accordingly.
“We’ve no idea, as yet, as to how long it will be. He’s out for the start of the season. If you have a punctured lung and only 10 days to get fit, you have to say that’s that.
“It is a real blow for us, you can’t hide away from that.”
Mullin’s 38 goals last season proved pivotal in Wrexham ending their 15-year stay in the fifth tier via lifting the National League title. His loss will be keenly felt, though captain Ben Tozer is backing his team-mate to return hungrier than ever.
“What you can say about him that he will have the bit between his teeth when he does get back,” says the 33-year-old. “I probably fear for the defenders in our league because he’ll come back with a point to prove. Let’s hope he does that sooner rather than later.”
The star status enjoyed by Wrexham’s top scorer from the past two seasons in the United States was evident on his first day of the club’s tour.
As they waited to see what the guy wanted, suddenly this local started to sing, “We’ve got Mullin, Super Paul Mullin….”. He’d been in town just two hours and it set the tone for a trip that has seen several U.S. journalists ask both Mullin and Parkinson when the striker might move to MLS.
His manager went so far as to describe the Liverpudlian as “priceless” in one reply, hence the angst felt by not only the Wrexham hordes inside San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium but also back home in north Wales at the sight of Mullin laying poleaxed on the floor.
That the collision came amid Mullin doing what he does best, sniffing out a goalscoring opportunity, only added to the sense of shock. Certainly, as the ball was played over the top and the Wrexham striker stole a march on Jonny Evans as the last defender, there was a ripple of excitement among the U.S. fans finally getting the chance to see someone play live who they had only previously watched on TV.
Those supporters had seen enough of Mullin in last season’s National League to know what was likely to happen next. Namely, him flicking the ball beyond the on-rushing goalkeeper and then reclaiming to tap into an empty net.
This time, though, it all went horribly wrong, as Nathan Bishop came charging out of his penalty area. Mullin won the race by poking the ball past the former Southend United goalkeeper. But Bishop’s momentum meant he had nowhere to go but straight into the forward.
“I’m fuming with it,” said Parkinson. “I have to be honest about that. It was a clumsy, reckless challenge in a pre-season game. It should have been a straight red. If it is not denying a goalscoring opportunity, it is still a dangerous challenge.
“So, if you add the two scenarios together, he (Bishop) should have been off the pitch. It was a dangerous challenge and Mulls is our talisman. I can’t say any more than the fact I’m not happy with it at all.”
Travis Binnion, the United academy director, perhaps understandably had another take on the 12th-minute incident. “No one wants to see anyone get injured,” he said. “He (Bishop) has made an honest challenge and the other guy has come off worse.
“We hope he’s alright. I know Bish has reached out to him already. He’s a great lad is Bish, he hasn’t got a bad bone in his body.”
Mullin’s shoulder bore much of the impact along with the left side of his body. As referee Mark Allatin brandished a yellow card at Bishop and awarded a free kick, it quickly became clear the Wrexham striker was in trouble.
Kevin Mulholland, Wrexham’s head of Head of Performance Medicine and Sports Science, rushed on to the field, closely followed by a couple of his colleagues.
Oxygen was quickly administered during a lengthy hold-up in play as the striker’s team-mates looked on, the concern clear on their faces as a hushed silence descended on the 34,248 crowd.
“My job when a hold-up like this happens is to get a message to the gaffer,” captain Tozer told The Athletic. “Basically, will he have to come off or stay on? How serious does it look?
“After that, I told the lads to try and give him a bit of space. That’s what the physio needs to work on. Also, when there’s a delay like that, you also have to make sure you don’t switch off from the game. So, I was making sure everyone got the message.
“I know we had a free kick to come but there is always something you can tweak tactically. Or maybe tell someone something you’ve spotted. Or maybe have a row with someone if things are not going right. The main thing in a situation like this is to keep everyone switched on.”
After five long minutes, Mullin was able to sit up. A ripple of applause followed in the stadium, as the stretcher-bearers stood waiting to take the striker away. Three minutes later, the former Cambridge United forward was finally on his way after getting to his feet and gingerly walking towards the touchline.
Both sets of fans rose to applaud Mullin, who was clearly in discomfort and carrying a portable oxygen bag that he twice had to use via a mask. Billy Waters, the March signing who featured for just 23 minutes during last season’s run-in due to Mullin’s exemplary form, came off the bench in his place.
As Mullin made his way with a member of the physio team to hospital, the game resumed and Bishop soon found his every touch jeered by the sizeable contingent of Wrexham fans. Such was the anger felt over the tackle that the booing of the United goalkeeper continued after half-time until they realised Bishop had been replaced by Radek Vitek at the break.
United academy director Binnion felt the reaction from the stands was harsh but Parkinson remained angry at the final whistle. Asked if Bishop had apologised for the collision, the 55-year-old said: “I haven’t seen the goalie and it’s probably best he stays clear of us for the time being because we are not very happy with him.”
In Mullin’s absence, Wrexham seized control via first-half goals from Elliot Lee and Aaron Hayden. Marc Jurado reduced the arrears on the stroke of half-time but a red card for United captain Dan Gore soon after the restart for a studs-up challenge on Andy Cannon saw the initiative swing back the way of the League Two club, who had 11 attempts on goal across the 90 minutes to United’s three (5-1 on target).
A flowing move midway through the second half ended with Jacob Mendy picking out Sam Dalby, whose fierce header gave Vitek no chance. Not long before that third goal, Parkinson received his first update from the hospital to cast a shadow over what was an excellent team display from Wrexham.
“The way the lads responded after what happened to Mulls was outstanding,” says Parkinson. “That is what we are all about as a group. Resilience and sticking together.”
Tozer agreed, adding: “In a funny way, I felt it (the injury) was a bit of a turning point for us. We maybe started the game a little bit slow but we seemed to be galvanised and it turned out to be a solid performance.”
As Tozer was presented with the Snapdragon Cup at the final whistle, the Wrexham players who had featured in the second half were updated on Mullin’s condition. “All the lads feel for Mulls,” says goalscorer Dalby. “I’ve never had an injury like this one, the worst I’ve had is been winded a few times. But Mulls will be back better than ever, I’m sure of that.”
By the time the team had returned to their Mission Valley hotel just a few miles from the stadium, a fresh update had arrived. Mullin was sitting up in bed. A photo duly appeared on Instagram not long afterwards with the striker, sporting an oxygen mask, giving a big thumbs-up to the camera above the caption ‘Thank you for all the messages, all good here!’
Now, all eyes will be on the specialist who will assess the damage later today. Much will depend on the verdict, including whether Wrexham decide to bring in a replacement or trust a combination of Dalby, Waters and record signing Ollie Palmer to fill the biggest of striking boots for a few weeks.
“You only have to look at the goals Mulls has scored for us in the two years I have been here to know how much he means to this club,” said captain Tozer, who once broke a rib when at Newport County so has an inkling as to what pain his team-mate will be in. “He has frightening ability and his numbers are off the scale.
“Having said that, Billy Waters came on (against United) and I felt he played superbly. Dalby also scored a goal and Ollie made a goal, while he also came close to scoring. So, we do have strength in depth.”
“Billy Waters came on and put in an incredible shift for us,” added Parkinson. “Sam Dalby got a goal and Ollie Palmer is looking fitter than he has ever done so we do have options. Having said that, you can’t hide away from the fact Mulls is an outstanding player.
“Losing a key player is a blow. But injuries are part and parcel of football. We’ve dealt with blows before and we will deal with this one.”
(Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)