Nuneaton Borough 1 Middlesbrough 1: Pragmatism overrides romance as Nuneaton earn 'perfect result'

Wipe that patronising grin off your face as you take in this scoreline, because this had nothing to do with romance, the magic of the Cup or any other greater power deeming that the little man was due another day out of his inferior existence.

No, this had everything to do with 11 part-timers reminding that in football, nothing counts for a damn when that whistle blows. Not reputation, not millions in the building society, not international caps, not 100 League places, not nothing. Indeed, never has a draw felt so triumphant.

And it was not just in the wondrous moments in the midst of a yesteryear pitch invasion when this illusory feeling of victory seemed so real. When Roger Ashby declared, with a beam running from ear to ear, "it's like we won, to be honest", the Conference North manager was referring to the fact that his second tier non-Leaguers had just played mighty Middlesbrough of the Premiership off the Manor Park.

But after having at least a few minutes to think about it, he did indeed agree that if anything this was better than winning. "You'll never know what the money from the replay will mean to us," he whispered, almost embarrassed to be hinting at it. He need not have worried because just behind him that other Roger of Nuneaton, Mr Stanford, was calling it "the perfect result".

"But surely, Mr Chairman, wouldn't the victory the performance deserved have been the perfect result?" asked one reporter. "Like I said," Stanford replied, laughing in the absurdity of it all, "this is the perfect result".

Not very romantic, you might like to comment, but then a £400,000-plus windfall, that could very well change the direction of a club in the nervous stages of a move of ground, tends to bring out the pragmatist in one. Especially the one whose chore it is to visit the bank manager every week or so. That particular breed deals in the hard potential of currency and not in the soft legacy of legend.

But still, a lasting folklore could so easily have been written on this freezing afternoon in Shakespeare's county and who knows, Nuneaton may have drawn Chelsea away this lunchtime. From the instant Gez Murphy threw off the shackles of insecurity and bore down on Brad Jones in the third minute, the shock was always on, even after Gaizka Mendieta's free-kick gave substance to the Warwickshire town's understandable sense of disadvantage.

Fortunately, the underdogs who mattered did not feel it and the setback only seemed to quicken their metamorphosis into a pack of ravenous wolves. They huffed, they puffed and threatened to bring the entire house down until Murphy's 90th-minute penalty did just that. It was fitting that on a day of gasps, the last gasp went to him. "If their goalie had dived the right way he would have caught it," said the sport development officer for Coventry council. "Imagine what that lot would have done to me then?"

They would still as likely have carried him off as his display certainly warranted it. The 29-year-old may not have a 1000th of the talent of Mark Viduka, but anyone who saw the latter's shameless portrayal of indifference here would tell you who they would prefer to succeed.

Steve McClaren was not about to admit as much - he has enough dissent in the camp at the minute - although his demeanour in wandering out five minutes after kick-off signalled that he, or his troops, really did not fancy this. "We were in a no-win situation today whatever happened," he said. "If we won, we were merely expected to. And if we didn't... well, we didn't did we?"

No they didn't, nobody won except the Nuneaton accountants, the fans who will step, dreamlike into the Riverside next Wednesday and those soppy FA Cup diehards who maintain there is something special about the old competition yet.

Maybe, but try telling that to the 1200 or so Middlesbrough fans who made the long trip south. "We were locked in for 20 minutes after allowing us to have bottles and coins thrown at us, and to be spat at," said one aggrieved supporter. "It's been a long time since I've seen women and children terrified at a match."

Somebody always manages to ruin it don't they? No, this day had little to do with romance.

Goals: Mendieta (15) 0-1; Murphy pen (90) 1-1.

Nuneaton Borough (4-4-2) : Acton; Oddy, Moore, Angus, Love; Collins, Noon, Fitzpatrick (Reeves, 82), Staff (Whittaker 23); Quailey (Frew, 77), Murphy. Substitutes not used: Wilkin, Poole (gk).

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Jones; Parnaby, Southgate, Bates, Pogatetz; Morrison, Doriva, Cattermole, Mendieta; Yakubu, Viduka. Substitutes not used: Schwarzer (gk), Taylor, Johnson, Wheater, Maccarone.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Booked: Middlesbrough Pogatetz.

Man of the match: Murphy.

Attendance: 6,000.

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