The satisfaction at having scored twice against Premiership opposition will not prevent Gez Murphy from waking today to reflect on the one that got away. With his side in danger of being on the end of a double-figure deficit as Middlesbrough ran riot after the interval, Murphy's two late interventions ensured that, quite rightly, non-League pride remained intact.
But a fourth-minute miss - when he burst through to see his shot brilliantly saved by Brad Jones - will undoubtedly leave the sports development officer deliberating over what might have been.
A deadlock-breaking goal at that point could well have seen an entirely different scenario unfold. Middlesbrough now travel to Coventry in round four, but until taking the lead they were a shadow of the side that plundered five goals in half an hour either side of the break. "There are defining moments in games and Brad's done it for us again," Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, said.
"It could have made a huge difference to the game," Roger Ashby, the Nuneaton manager, said. "On another night it goes in and we're away and flying. Until they scored the first goal it was pretty even."
It was, but the goals clearly restored much of the confidence drained by shipping seven at Highbury.
Middlesbrough's winless run of eight Premiership games has left McClaren suffering from bouts of insomnia but he slept a little easier last night. "It's job done, a small step towards our recovery and I was pleased with the players' reaction because this was never going to be easy."
The relief was palpable as Chris Riggott lifted the opener over Darren Acton with a deft first goal of the season after 34 minutes.
When Aiyegbeni Yakubu wrong-footed the Nuneaton keeper from the penalty spot seven minutes later, after Stuart Whittaker had flattened Gaizka Mendieta, even the 5,000 travelling fans knew the game was up. Acton was beaten at his near post by Stuart Parnaby's first goal in 52 Middlesbrough starts straight after the interval, and it was then damage limitation.
Yakubu's 14th goal of the season made it four after the Nigerian barged his way through to send an untidy finish past the Nuneaton keeper. Mark Viduka's shot on the turn from a dozen yards further increased the lead and with 27 minutes still to play, Boro were on to match Arsenal's tally.
Nuneaton punished Middlesbrough twice in the last 20 minutes. Murphy stole in for a rightly deserved consolation, the forward profiting from a mix-up in the Middlesbrough defence to head Acton's lengthy clearance into an unguarded net.
Murphy's tally was doubled four minutes from time as he beat Jones from the spot after he had been felled by Ray Parlour. Had he accomplished the same feat 82 minutes earlier, Nuneaton might have been reflecting on something far greater than heroic defeat.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Jones; Bates, Riggott, Pogatetz, Taylor; Mendieta,
Parnaby (Parlour, 64), Cattermole, Johnson; Viduka (Maccarone, 64)Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Schwarzer (gk), Rochemback, Wheater.
Nuneaton Borough (4-4-2): Acton; Oddy, Moore, Angus, Love; Collins (Reeves, 81), Noon, Fitzpatrick, Whittaker (Wilkin, 76); Murphy, Quailey (Frew, 59). Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Rea.
Referee: M Riley (Leeds).Reuse content