Hastings United’s remarkable FA Cup fairytale finally came to an end with 4-1 defeat away to Middlesbrough this afternoon (Saturday).
But the Ryman League minnows can make the long journey back from the north east with their heads held high after giving a terrific account of themselves in this third round tie at The Riverside Stadium.
It was always going to be a big ask for the U’s to bridge a gap of 131 places in the football pyramid but they gave their 1,068-strong band of travelling supporters plenty to cheer with a whole-hearted display which was capped by a wonderful goal from Bradley Goldberg.
United handed a debut to Liam O’Brien, a 21-year-old goalkeeper from League Two side Barnet signed on loan to replace the injured Matt Armstrong-Ford, and he immediately announced himself by saving a 17th minute penalty by Ishmael Miller.
Boro opened the scoring just five minutes later, though, when Merouane Zemmama was given too much space 25 yards from goal and produced a delightful curling finish into the top corner.
United really grew into the game during the last 15 minutes of the first half with Jamie Crellin having a shot deflected wide before Goldberg had the ball in the net only to be denied by an offside flag.
The second half got off to a worst possible start, however, as a left wing corner by Luke Williams was turned into the net by Andy Halliday less than two minutes after the re-start.
United captain Lee Carey was whiskers away from pulling one back on the hour mark when his 25-yard shot was tipped onto the post by Boro goalkeeper Jason Steele.
Boro went 3-0 up in the 68th minute when Zemmama’s shot from outside the penalty area took a wicked deflection off Crellin which completely wrong-footed O’Brien.
But straight from the re-start, United surged forward and Goldberg unleashed a magnificent 25-yard shot into the top corner to spark joyous scenes among the players and fans.
Boro had the final word in the 85th minute when Miller cut onto his left foot and rolled the ball into the corner of the net from the edge of the ‘D’.
Hastings: O’Brien, Cox, Whitehead, Carey, Ray, Jirbandey, Dixon, Camara, Goldberg, Crellin, Vickers. Subs: Howard, Ellis, Okojie, Manning, Daly, Richardson, Abbott.
Attendance: 12,579 (Hastings, 1,068)