The FA Cup comeback kings of St Neots Town have done it again.
Matt Clements’ men reached the fourth qualifying round of the famous competition for the first time in 52 years last night.
Saints triumphed 5-3 on penalties in a replay at fellow Southern League Premier Division Central side Coalville after, not for the first time in the FA Cup this season, looking doomed.
They trailed 3-1 with a matter of minutes to go, but substitute Gary Wharton bagged a late brace to take the tie into extra-time.
Just in case the storyline wasn’t already dramatic enough, Wharton was scoring his first goals since the 2015/16 season after missing the past two campaigns with a serious knee injury.
Then, after neither side could find another breakthrough in the additional half-an-hour, Saints’ chosen men did the business from the spot.
Taylor Parr, Dion Sembie-Ferris, Dylan Williams, Nabil Shariff and Johnny Herd made it a full house while a save from goalkeeper Harry Reynolds, who kept out the first Coalville attempt, completed another barely believable chapter in an utterly astonishing journey.
“This is by far the best comeback yet,” said boss Clements. “We showed again that we are a very good side and that we never ever give in.
“I couldn’t be happier for Gary to get the goals. He is an amazingly humble guy who has worked so hard to build himself back up again after a terrible injury.
“The boys did so well to score their penalties under so much pressure and it was a brilliant to see Harry pull off the vital save. He played really well all night with some world class stops before then too.
“There was so much emotion and it means so much to so many people associated with the club.”
Saints entered the FA Cup at the first qualifying stage where they beat fellow Step 3 side Bishop’s Stortford 2-1 despite playing the final hour with 10 men after the harsh dismissal of skipper Luke Knight.
Then, in the second qualifying round, they were headed for humiliation when falling 3-0 down to lower-level Romulus in barely a quarter-of-an-hour, but Clements’ men completed a fairytale fightback capped by a stoppage-time winner from Dion Sembie-Ferris.
The fact he picked up a caution and a suspension for taking his shirt off when celebrating did take away a sprinkling of the FA Cup magic he helped to create.
It meant Sembie-Ferris had to sit out the initial third qualifying round clash against Coalville last Saturday when Saints again snatched the triumph of earning a replay from a situation of adversity.
They fell two goals down to a visiting team who were a man down before striking twice late on as Tom Wood halved the arrears before Nabil Shariff levelled.
And they were on the brink of an exit again in the replay when 3-1 down in the closing stages of the second half.
Saints fell behind late in the first half before Claudio Ofosu levelled soon after the break, but two further Coalville goals put the hosts in command.
However, such a lead is far from safe against Saints and Wharton halved the arrears in the 89th minute before he levelled three minutes into stoppage time.
Saints chief Clements was sent to the stands in the aftermath of their equaliser when deemed to have instructed his players from outside his technical area.
The dismissal did at least give him a loftier view of extra-time in which the woodwork came to his side’s rescue. A free-kick from Scott McManus, the Coalville player sent off on Saturday, thudded against the bar.
But McManus was then the man to fluff his lines in the shoot-out as his spot-kick was saved by Reynolds as St Neots pulled off arguably their greatest escape yet.
Their reward is a trip to National League North side Alfreton in the next round on October 20 when could add another £25,000 to the £30,000 they have already trousered.
But the far bigger prize is the potential to reach the first round proper for only the second time in their history - and it would take a brave man to bet against them . . .
“It feels like anything is possible with the run we’re on,” added Clements. “Reaching the first round of the FA Cup is a dream for clubs like ourselves in non-league and we’re 90 minutes away from turning it into reality.”