Sunderland RCA’s Wembley dream ended in front of a bumper Meadow Park crowd on Saturday – but Martin Swales’s men held their heads high.
They dominated for long periods against Bristol Manor Farm and twice led, only to concede two late goals to lose 3-2.
Swales, who has revived RCA’s fortunes since he took charge just over a year ago, was bitterly disappointed.
He said: “The crowd was fantastic and roared us on, but it just wasn’t to be.
“We probably had 70 per cent possession and created 70 per cent of the goal chances.
“Our goalkeeper, Andrew Hunter, hardly had a save to make, apart from picking the ball out of the net three times.
“We had done our homework on them and I really thought we had a good chance of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in the club’s history.”
Home fans in the biggest gate of the season were delirious as their favourites took a 36th-minute lead, though they had had chances to go in front prior to the opener.
Luke Proctor delivered a good corner which troubled the visitors’ defence and Wayne Buchanan beat goalkeeper Ashley Clark for the crucial opening goal.
Early in the second period, however, danger man Jordan Metters slipped a through ball to Dean Stamp and he gave Hunter no chance for Manor Farm’s equaliser.
But the Wearsiders – despite playing against the wind and up the slope in the second half – were back again 10 minutes later and it was the Proctor/Buchanan partnership which engineered a second goal, after Clark had made an impressive save to deny the hosts.
Proctor was causing problems for the Bristol defence with his accurate crosses and Buchanan once more provided the finishing touch, volleying home unmarked.
At 2-1 and with 20 minutes remaining it looked as if Swales’s side was in with a good chance of progressing, with the visitors visibly deflated by going behind for a second time, but the Bristolians finished strongly.
Metters set up the scoring opportunity with a neat ball through the defence and Pete Shephard showed quick feet to clip the ball over the onrushing keeper.
Then, with the clock winding down, RCA’s hopes were cruelly shattered as, for the third occasion, the ball-playing Metters split the home defence and Stamp, a handful for the home defence throughout, slotted past Hunter.
“I’m gutted and so is everyone else, but now we’ve got to look ahead and concentrate on making further progress up the Ebac Northern League. We are still with a good shout of finishing in the top six,” added Swales.
Dunston UTS, Vase winners in 2012, have a second chance to make it into the last eight.
They held Ashford United to a draw after extra time in Kent and will have home advantage in the replay at Saturday.
Shaun Welford was an early scorer for the hosts, but it was no more than the Tynesiders deserved when Aristote Guerin levelled following a splendid move involving Malcolm Morien and Alex Francis.
Newton Aycliffe went out in Surrey to Camberley Town, who romped to a 5-0 victory courtesy of strikes by Rob Lazarczuk (2), Terry Coles (2) and James Hubbard.
Morpeth Town’s fourth round tie with holders North Shields was postponed again.
They will try again tonight at the Robins’ Daren Persson Stadium.