Pride. Sickness. Madness. They were all words emanating from the Aldershot dressing room at the Riverside Stadium come 10 to five on a Saturday afternoon when the fourth round of the FA Cup had finished in such cruel fashion.
There were 12 seconds left of the 96th and final minute when Middlesbrough summoned up one final effort that would prove to break the hearts of Dean Holdsworth's brave side, when Lukas Jutkiewicz barged his way through to make the finishing scoreline 2-1. In that moment, the manager of Aldershot (they are 89th in the Football League) turned to look at his No 2, and then to the heavens. The footballing gods, like Holdsworth, still enjoy becoming wanton boys when the FA Cup rolls into town. This time Aldershot were their flies. It is forgotten that heartache falls regularly on David as well.
Yet Holdsworth, still smiling in appreciation of his side's performance in a stadium that had been a third full, turned on those that seek to dilute the competition his side had just left.
"You must be mad to knock the FA Cup," he said. "It's a fantastic competition. Look at the history behind it. We were hungry for the FA Cup. We showed that. It's why it hurts so much.
"I want more, I really enjoyed the occasion and I'm a proud man. We want more of that. I think the preparation, commitment and the quality we've shown against a team 64 places above us was fantastic. It makes you hungry for more, doesn't it?
"I've just challenged the players to show the same desire as this for the rest of the season. We've matched them toe to toe. The players should be proud and should learn from that.
"I use it as a benchmark. They should want to learn and want to push on. Overall, we should be really proud. We went on the pitch on Friday. I wanted to give them a taste of it. I didn't want them to be intimidated. There is no fear in the team, they're a great bunch and we prepared really well. We are all hurting but we have the character to come again."
Aldershot's admirable resistance lasted until the 83rd minute. Then Jutkiewicz scored his first. Tony Mowbray admitted afterwards he thought then the job was done. With two minutes left, Aldershot's Danny Rose clipped a delightful ball to Danny Hylton. The centre forward has some story in this season's FA Cup. He scored a hat-trick in the previous round against Rotherham, a game in which he was also sent off. For that he was suspended for three games, the third of which came in mid-week, against Northampton, when the Recreation Ground was covered in snow. Hylton helped clear the pitch to ensure the game went ahead and his suspension was served.
Thus in the 88th minute, when the ball came, his first touch, which was excellent, was that of a man ready, his second drilled the ball past Jason Steele. Then the story was his. The goal was his eighth in the tournament this year. He may still finish as top scorer. It did not seem like much consolation after Jutkiewicz scored again.
"We feel sick in the dressing room," said Hylton. "For 95 minutes we ran ourselves into the ground trying to match them in every way we could. The equaliser came two minutes from the end, then they score with the last kick of the match. It's sickening really.
"It was worth the snow shovelling and we can take an awful lot of positives out of the game. Eight goals in the cup? The best this season? Some of the big boys might have something to say as they will be involved until the latter stages but I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope it stays the best."
Holdsworth has a difficult few days to see if he must fight off offers for his centre forward. On Saturday the pain came quickly, but it will last.
Middlesbrough: STEELE 7/10, HINES 6, BIKEY 7, WILLIAMS 7, PARNABY 7, BAILEY 6, SMALLWOOD 6, REACH 7, EMNES 5 ZEMMAMA 7, JUTKIEWICZ 8
Aldershot: YOUNG 8, MORRIS 6, BRADLEY 6, BROWN 7, HERD 6, VINCENTI 6, ROSE 7, HECTOR 6, REID 6, HYLTON 8, CADOGAN 7
Goals: Midd Jutkiewicz 83, 90. Aldershot Hylton 89. Substitutions: Middlesbrough Halliday (Smallwood, 61), Ledesma (Emnes, 61), Leadbitter (Hines, 78). Aldershot Risser 5 (Reid, 69), Mekki (Cadogan, 78), Rankine (Hector, 87). Bookings: Middlesbrough Hines, Ledesma, Halliday, Leadbitter. Aldershot Hector. Man of the match Jutkiewicz. Match rating 5/10. Possession: Middlesbrough 60%. Aldershot 40%. Attempts on target: Middlesbrough 10. Aldershot 5. Referee R Madley (West Yorks). Att 12,684.
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