Despite an all-out challenge for parity in the final stages, Spalding United made their exit from the FA Cup at higher-level Mickleover Sports on Saturday.
But for an unfortunate own-goal by their talisman skipper Nathan Stainfield as the game entered its final quarter, the Tulips were within a shout of forcing a replay.
However, that left the Tulips with a mountain to climb against a talented home team who play in the Premier Division of the Evo-Stik NPL.
Stainfield, urging his troops on and leading by example, saw a firm header from James Cullingworth’s cross graze the woodwork before, in the final minute of normal play, he was on the end of one of Matt Varley’s long throws to beat keeper Laurence Bilboe with a thundering close-range header.
The pressure on the home goal was maintained in the four minutes of added time but Sports held on to take the prize money and a place in the draw for the next round.
The Tulips had suffered a blow on the morning of the game with Andy Wright pulling out because of illness. His skills down the left side of the pitch were missed.
Spalding were fully involved, although they never quite replicated the form displayed over the two games during the holiday weekend.
Varley’s long throws were a feature throughout, often creating concern to the home defence.
After just four minutes, his throw was knocked a few yards back to Nathan Whitehead who fired wide.
Bilboe twice spilled the ball after failing to cleanly gather from Varley. Bradley Wells was unable to take advantage.
The keeper, on his Sports debut, looked shaky and was a mere spectator as Stainfield’s header smacked the woodwork.
In the skirmish that followed, strong appeals for a penalty when Wells was sent tumbling were ignored by the referee.
At the other end Michael Duggan did well to turn a scorching free-kick from Sports player-manager John McGrath away for a corner.
Two minutes before the interval the deadlock was broken.
A low drive into the Tulips area saw the spread-eagled Duggan twice push the ball away from his line before Adam Baskerville got his boot to the ball.
However, only three minutes of the second half were played before Wells levelled the scores.
Varley’s looping throw towards the area was helped on by Stainfield and Wells completed the sequence – his deft header giving Bilbow no chance.
Play was from end to end but with Sports showing some flair. However, their second goal had an element of good fortune attached with Jake Bennett’s effort taking a huge deflection to beat Duggan in the 60th minute.
The home team were certainly in the driving seat when the unfortunate Stainfield diverted the ball into his own goal on 72 minutes, giving them a 3-1 advantage.
But to their credit the Tulips battled to the bitter end and their 89th-minute strike set up a frantic finish to a hugely entertaining encounter.
Spalding: Duggan, Lemon (sub Cullingworth 75 mins), Field, Varley, Stainfield, Spafford, Walker, Whitehead, Wells, Downey (sub Costa 75 mins), Lockie (sub Acar 50 mins).
The Tulips’ Sports Celebrity Dinner with Ian Wright at Springfields Events & Conference Centre has been pushed back two weeks to Thursday, October 6. Call 07703 581672 or email email@example.com for more details.