Needham Market were so close to a famous FA Cup result against Cambridge United in the fourth qualifying round this afternoon.
Adam Cunnington broke the hosts’ hearts with 10 minutes remaining, but the Marketmen enjoyed an incredible day.
In front of a record crowd of 1,784, they played their hearts out against their more illustrious opponents and Sam Nunn could even have forced a replay when he stabbed wide in stoppage time.
Needham started the game well and Jamie Guy and Sam Newson tested Cambridge goalkeeper Chris Maxwell inside the opening 10 minutes.
On-loan Colchester United winger also went on a mazy run that threatened to end as a classic FA Cup goal, but Tom Bonner got across to halt his progress.
Despite having plenty of the ball, it took 13 minutes for the visiting U’s - top of the Skrill Conference Premier Division - to have a shot at James Shea’s goal, but Kwesi Appiah’s stunning drive rattled the underside of the crossbar.
Ian Westlake was dictating play from central midfield and Melaugh’s dribbling continued to cause the away side problems and the Marketmen - from three leagues below their professional opponents - could not quite force the ball home from a goalmouth scramble.
At the other end, Appiah looked the most likely to break through and dragged a shot wide on the half-turn after sneaking in behind the home side’s defence again.
Needham suffered a blow when Newson went off on crutches on the stroke of half-time and Cambridge almost grabbed the opening goal when Ryan Donalson’s 25-yard free-kick was pushed over by Shea.
The U’s ended the half in the ascendancy, with Shea also called upon to push away Josh Coulson’s header, but the interval came with the game all square.
There was a more measured feel to the game on its resumption, but the opportunities began to fall the way of the visitors.
Luke Berry jinked his way into the Needham box but shot straight at Shea before Ollie Brown made an excellent intervention to deflect Appiah’s shot behind for a corner.
Substitute Adam Cunnington found the hands of Shea again and Harrison Dunk headed wide from Liam Hughes’ cross with Shea scrambling to get across.
The Needham goalkeeper then made an incredible save in the 67th minute to somehow tip Cunnington’s powerful header from point-blank range on to the crossbar and Appiah could only put the follow-up wide.
Dunk stung the hands of Shea as Cambridge continued to press forward and Sam Nunn and a bloodied Lee Townrow - wrapped up like Terry Butcher - put their bodies on the line to keep the U’s out.
Appiah was denied by the oustretched boot of Shea, but United finally broke through when substitute Mitch Austin delivered a cross from the left on to the head of fellow replacement Cunnington at the far post and the big number nine planted his downward header into the net from close range.
There was still life in Needham though and Westlake worked himself some space on the edge of the penalty area and stung the hands of Maxwell, but United were dangerous on the counter-attack and it took two more fabulous saves from Shea to keep out Appiah and Hughes.