Manager Matt Clements hailed the ‘bravery’ of his St Neots Town players for overcoming the odds to make FA Cup progress.
Saints triumphed 2-1 against fellow Step 3 side Bishop’s Stortford in a first qualifying round tie at the Premier Plus Stadium yesterday despite being reduced to 10 men after half-an-hour.
Skipper Luke Knight was controversially dismissed for a challenge on visiting player Jordan Westcott, but Saints made light of their numerical advantage to pocket £6,000 in prize money.
An inspired substitution from Clements also helped as he sent on young striker Kasey Douglas to grab the winner with his first Saints goal.
Clements said: “There is no doubt we deserved to win the game. We dominated it despite only having 10 men for an hour.
“Luke’s challenge was one of those that looked worse than it actually was. He won the ball clearly and safely.
“But we showed class, leadership and bravery in a great performance under the circumstances.
“Being ultra-critical, we should have been two or three goals up even before Luke was sentoff, but every man involved was superb.”
Saints midfielder Harry O’Malley was denied an early opener by a post before Dion Sembie-Ferris saw a goalbound effort blocked by a defender. The speedy frontman also steered another excellent chance wide.
Saints then lost their skipper Knight, but responded by hitting the front from the penalty spot seven minutes before the break.
Dylan Williams did the honours from 12 yards on his return from injury after Claudio Ofosu was brought down in the box.
Taylor Parr and Johnny Herd saw efforts deflected wide as Saints continued to threaten in the second half, but they were pegged back with 13 minutes to go by a Jake Cass leveller.
Clements responded by unleashing Douglas from the bench and the substitute made an almost immediate impression.
Only 50 seconds after his introduction, and with seven minutes to go, Douglas steered in a Sembie-Ferris cross to provide the perfect finishing touch to a move started by a fine Matt Miles pass.
Saints comfortably saw out the closing stages to celebrate an impressive success while the visitors had substitute Chinedu Osadebe dismissed following the final whistle for dissent.
Saints handed a debut to goalkeeper Harry Reynolds with regular number one Finlay Iron unable to play under the terms of his loan agreement with League Two club Cambridge United.
Recent striking signing Ben Worman – another Cambridge youngster - was not involved for the same reason.
Saints’ reward is a home tie against Step 5 side Romulus - a Birmingham outfit from the Midland League Premier Division - in the second qualifying round on September 22.
Before then they are back in Southern League Premier Division Central action at Banbury this Saturday.