The St Neots Town cup spell appears to have run out of magic.
Matt Clements’ men suffered a disappointing FA Trophy exit yesterday when falling to fellow Southern League Premier Division Central side Barwell at the second qualifying round stage.
Saints were unable to repeat their FA Cup heroics of earlier in the campaign as they succumbed to a solitary goal from a famous name in what became a seriously frustrating game as they failed to take advantage of playing against 10 men for more than an hour.
Barwell had striker Massiah McDonald dismissed after 28 minutes for collecting a second caution, but it was another of their attacking players who settled the contest.
Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, who was born and grew up just down the road in Cambridge, is no stranger to scoring important goals. After all, he got 10 of them in the Premier League and also notched more than 60 times in the Championship earlier in an impressive career which featured a £1.5 million move to Wolves in 2008.
And while a winner at the Premier Plus Stadium a decade on definitely doesn’t rank alongside goals at Old Trafford and Goodison Park in his pomp, it did earn his side £4,000 of prize money and left the Saints camp kicking themselves for allowing a glorious opportunity to slip through their grasp.
The introduction of Ebanks-Blake at half-time was a bold and ultimately inspired move by Barwell boss Jimmy Ginnelly which was rewarded in the 77th minute when he converted a deep cross from fellow substitute Nigel Julien which was hooked back into the danger area by visiting captain Brad Hickey.
And Saints’ hopes of conjuring up another of their cup comebacks were dashed moments later by the incredibly harsh dismissal of Dylan Williams for collecting a second booking – both of which were issued by indifferent referee Alistair Wilson despite there appearing to be no contact on Barwell players.
Barwell arrived nine places and three points better off than Saints in the Southern League Premier Division Central standings, but the previous cup exploits of Clements’ men this season provided plenty of hope that they could emerge victorious.
A lively performance in the opening half – combined with the dismissal of McDonald – gave further credence to that view, but Saints were disappointing in the second period when failing to press home their numerical advantage.
The slick, quick attacks of the first 45 minutes – during which Dion Sembie-Ferris and Russell Short were denied by a fine double-save from Barwell keeper Liam Castle early on; Sembie-Ferris saw another effort deflected wide; Williams headed over at the end of a move he started with an exquisite piece of control in midfield and Short volleyed inches wide from 20 yards - were replaced by moves of much lower tempo and considerably less imagination.
They were fortunate not to fall behind soon after the restart as Jahvan Davidson-Miller danced round goalkeeper Harry Reynolds only for Short to be in the right place at the right time to clear the goalbound shot.
At the other end a Williams shot-on-the-turn was kept out by a sliding defensive block while a stinging Sembie-Ferris drive was dealt with by Castle.
The breakthrough finally arrived when Ebanks-Blake converted from close range and Saints never looked like levelling in all honesty.
Captain Luke Knight stung Castle’s palms with a 25-yard half-volley but they couldn’t carve out an opportunity of note during the remainder of the 90 minutes and a lengthy chunk of stoppage time.
Now the attention turns to climbing the league table for Saints . . .