Holbeach United striker Jamie Clarke’s tweet said it all after his side’s 3-2 FA Vase fifth round defeat to Erith and Belvedere at Carter’s Park on Saturday.
“Words can’t describe how I feel right now”.
A bumper crowd saw history repeat itself 26 years on from the last time the Tigers got to this stage of the annual competition for clubs playing below step four in the football pyramid.
Things could have been so much different for Holbeach when red-hot striker Lee Dube, fresh from netting a hat-trick at Huntingdon Town on Wednesday, seized on a moment’s hesitation by advancing Deres keeper George Kamurasi on two minutes to lob into an empty net.
But a shot on goal by Erith central defender Sam Groombridge just before the opening goal gave the visitors a sense that Tigers keeper Nick Conroy was to have one of his worst days ever in a Holbeach shirt.
The home side came under bombardment from a series of corners but it was slick football by Deres skipper Alfie May that unlocked the right-hand side of the Tigers’ defence on 12 minutes as Byron Walker arrived on a lay-off from his team-mate to send a flashing drive past Conroy.
Then came a pivotal moment on 17 minutes in the game when Tigers’ skipper Danny Spencer suffered a re-occurence of the hamstring injury he sustained in the UCL Premier Division top-of-the-table showdown against AFC Rushden and Diamonds three weeks earlier.
Spencer was replaced by Stacey Cartwright and on 20 minutes, he and Kern Miller had to clear from a goalmouth scramble when Erith threatened to take the lead.
At the other end, Lee Beeson sent a trademark 25-yard angled drive inches wide on 23 minutes before the hosts were undone by defensive suicide 11 minutes later.
Miscommunication between Conroy and Miller led to the ex-Spalding United central defender heading past his own goalkeeper on 34 minutes.
Lee Dube tried to make amends six minutes before half-time, shrugging off an Erith defender before unleashing a 30-yard curling effort just wide.
In the second-half, Holbeach grabbed the game by the throat as Beeson forced a save out of Kamurasi straight from a corner and then Duffy poked a shot wide from 12 yards on 54 minutes.
The game became scrappy and confrontational, with referee Michael George having to dispense several yellow cards.
Then the Holbeach equaliser arrived when Duffy profited from a slip by Groombridge to find the bottom right-hand corner of the Deres’ net.
But Alfie May almost won it for the visitors with seven minutes to go when trying his luck from 30 yards out, forcing Conroy into a full-stretch tip over the crossbar.
However, the tie went into extra-time and Erith had a second wind, controlling possession as the Tigers appeared to run out of bite.
Nine minutes into the first period of extra time, Deres substitute Ben Wilson broke free on the right and crossed to striker Alfie Marsh who made no mistake from 12 yards.
Holbeach’s FA Vase hopes were finally extinguished right on the 120-minute mark when Matty Nolan, on for Jamie Clarke, was red-carded for a late challenge on Groombridge which referee George interpreted as dangerous play.
Will Holbeach United ever get as close to Wembley again as they were on Saturday?