A 4-3 FA Cup replay victory saw Hartley Wintney FC into the fourth qualifying round for the first time in their history
Beaming Ben Dillon was left bursting with pride after his Hartley Wintney heroes created club history on an unforgettable night on the Somerset coast.
The Row player-boss saw his troops battle back from 2-0 and 3-1 down against Clevedon Town in an FA Cup replay on Monday night (October 14), to reach the fourth qualifying round for the first time ever thanks to a 96th-minute penalty from Sam Argent.
It ensured the villagers earned a cool £7,500 payout and booked them a home tie with either Ryman Premier side Grays Athletic or Southern Central high-fliers Daventry Town next Saturday (October 26), with a potentially lucrative first round tie against a Football League club just 90 minutes away.
Two goals down at the break, Dillon shuffled his pack and introduced Elliot Hobden to the fray and the substitute responded with a second-half double before Argent kept his cool to win the tie from the spot with just 10 seconds remaining.
"I'm absolutely over the moon and so proud of my players" said Dillon, whose side had earned Monday night's replay with a 1-1 draw with 10 men at the Memorial Ground on Saturday.
"To make history is an unbelievable feeling, for me, the players and of course the club itself. It means everything.
"I went through every emotion out there, we all did, but it just goes to show the never-say-die attitude the lads have here.
“First half was probably the worst 45 minutes we have played all year. We didn't look like scoring and it was a real concern, so we changed things around at the break.
"We said to each other at half time that we didn't want to go out of the FA Cup on a performance like that and the boys were absolutely brilliant in the second half. The game had everything, it was a proper FA Cup tie."
Seasiders boss Mickey Bell admitted his side were rather fortunate to have earned a second chance after Saturday's stalemate, watched by a record 410 supporters, but they certainly flew out of the blocks early on with striker Ross McNab testing keeper Craig Atkinson with an early low shot and Ed Vahid fizzing an effort inches wide.
Their best chance came from the penalty spot on 16 minutes when Ashley Lloyd brought down Joe Flurry on the right-hand side of the box, but Ollie Barnes smashed his effort against the post with Atkinson well beaten.
By now though Clevedon were dominant and they were not to be denied for long, eventually breaking the deadlock nine minutes later. Barnes floated over a corner and McNab headed home at the near post.
Atkinson performed heroics to keep Hartley in the tie but could do nothing about Clevedon's second goal on 38 minutes.
Barnes was sent flying in the box for the Seasiders' third penalty of the tie and this time Matt Thorne made no mistake, sending the keeper the wrong way.
Dillon's response was to revert to 4-3-3 at half-time – Hobden coming on for his assistant Jason Minton – and immediately Hartley were in the ascendancy.
Seconds after Barnes had an effort ruled out for offside, the Row pulled a goal back when Hobden picked the ball up 35 yards from goal following a half-cleared corner and fired a fine looping volley into the corner of the net for 2-1.
Hartley's resurgence did not last long, however – just three minutes to be exact – when a weak clearance fell to Thorne on the edge of the box and he rifled home into the far corner.
Within 60 seconds though Hartley were back in it and it was that man Hobden again who popped up to fire an excellent low shot in off the far post from the edge of the area for 3-2.
Then, 11 minutes later, Hartley were handed a lifeline when Kaine Gazzard inexplicably handled the ball in the box, the referee pointed to the spot and Sam Argent made no mistake to complete the comeback.
Dillon thought his side had taken the lead on 78 minutes when Tom Walsh's free kick from the halfway line bounced and looped over bemused keeper Oli Barton - but the referee disallowed the effort as the free kick was indirect, although Hartley were adamant Barton had got a touch.
Both sides went close to finding a killer fourth goal – Ryan Stephens hooking an effort just over for Hartley, while Atkinson was on hand to deny McNab in a one-on-one.
But with extra time looming large, six minutes into time added on, Argent burst into the box and went down under a challenge from Sam Teale.
Referee Nunn had no hesitation in pointing to the spot for the fourth time in the evening, sparking mass protestation from the home side.
Argent made no mistake though, to send Hartley through amid joyous scenes.
Proud chairman Luke Mullen added: "We're absolutely chuffed to bits, it was a tremendous effort by the management team and the players and now we can't wait for what will be the biggest night in the club's history next Saturday."
HARTLEY WINTNEY: Atkinson, Minton (Hobden 45), Walsh, Jones, Urquhart, Lloyd, Elward, Hollamby, Argent, Stephens, Reynolds (Dillon 66), Partlow. Subs: Hutt.