Chasetown so close to shock
FA Cup 3rd Round: Chasetown 1 Cardiff City 3
It will be back to normality for Ben Steane, Chris Slater, Mark Branch and the rest of Chasetown's FA Cup heroes today.
Steane will be at his desk as a customs officer at Coventry Airport, Slater will be braving the elements to lay blockpaving and Branch will be working out tax queries as a trainee accountant. But what Monday morning tales they can tell their workmates.
For 90 minutes, reality was left on hold when Chasetown, from the eighth tier of the football pyramid, narrowed the gap on Coca-Cola Championship side Cardiff City from a Grand Canyon chasm to a rocky fissure. And for 30 minutes, they were dreaming of one of the biggest upsets of all-time.
Steane's cross and Kevin McNaughton's deflection provided the Scholars with a 17th-minute lead and not even comedians Frank Carson and Nick Hancock, who both provided the pre-match humour, could have scripted that.
But an equaliser from former Aston Villa midfield player Peter Whittingham on the stroke of half-time settled Cardiff's anxieties and well-crafted second-half goals from Aaron Ramsey and Paul Parry ended a fairytale run that had begun back on September 1 at the preliminary round stage, when 321 fans watched Chasetown beat Oadby, of the Midland Alliance, 4-1.
Ultimately, class told but Chasetown's part-timers, the lowest-ranked team ever to play in the third round, were certainly never outfought nor outbattled. The biggest day in their footballing career was one they will never forget.
Manager Charlie Blakemore quite rightly described himself as "the proudest man in the whole of the world".
"People say the magic of the Cup has gone. It hasn't, no way," said Blakemore. "Grass roots, this is what it's all about.
"A few of the players are disappointed because we've lost and I am disappointed. I hate losing but, by the same token, you just have to reflect on their achievement in creating history in the best club cup competition in the world. I'll have the memories for the rest of my life.
"Win, lose or draw, I said we were going out on the lash on Saturday night and having a few beers and enjoying it, because they're back at work and I'm back at work on Monday.
"Some of the lads played out there for £30. They've not asked for any bonus. All they wanted was the memory and they've got it."
Cardiff boss Dave Jones added: "Everyone was here for the fairytale. We just happened to be the party-poopers. My wife normally says that when I don't dance!
"I am very honoured to be part of their history because it's been a big day for them. That's what all the headlines should be. The Chasetown players should be proud of themselves."
Those headlines could have installed Chasetown alongside Hereford United, Altrincham and Woking in Cup folklore after they grabbed the lead after 17 minutes following the best move of the first half.
Steane stole possession on the halfway line and raced forwards down the inside-right channel to collect a perfectly-weighted Dean Perrow pass. The midfielder fired in a low cross towards Kyle Perry at the far post but the ball rebounded off City right-back McNaughton and bobbled in slow-motion past another former Villa man, goalkeeper Michael Oakes, into the net.
Chasetown, the giant-killers of Port Vale in round two, were pegged back as Cardiff won 11 first-half corners but, with Slater, Joe Williams and Thomas immense at the back, they were rarely troubled until the second minute of stoppage time when Whittingham cut in from the right and fired home an angled 20-yarder to level matters.
Another ex-Brummie, Tony Capaldi, who started his career at Birmingham City, had a hand in the second goal on the hour mark. His far-post cross was nodded back into the six-yard box by Parry and Ramsey stole in unmarked to head home.
Former Hereford United player Parry then earned his reward with the decisive third on 73 minutes after combining with fellow Wales international Joe Ledley and drilling home a low shot on the turn from 14 yards.
Midfielder Steane said: "I thought we matched them for the first 20 minutes and then, to go in front, you start thinking 'here we go'. If we could have gone in 1-0 in front at half-time, it might have been slightly different. If it had been 1-0 and we could have held them for 20 minutes in the second half, they would have become a bit edgy.
"It's been a great day, but we've come off disappointed we've not got anything from the game. Simply to say that against a Championship side and a class act like Cardiff is unbelievable."
Just like Chasetown's ten-game Cup marathon.