Pontefract Collieries’ fantastic run in the FA Vase came to an end at the last 32 stage on Sunday when they lost out 3-1 to 1874 Northwich.
Craig Parry’s men were in the fourth round match with a fighting chance right to the finish and were level with 12 minutes to play, but a 90th minute goal sealed their fate, giving the hosts a 3-1 win.
Colls were never quite the goal threat they have been for so much of the season and had no excuses after being beaten by a good side who played well on the day and made it 10 straight victories.
But they showed their battling qualities in staying in the tie for so long and after trailing 1-0 at half-time they looked to be on the front foot when Mark Whitehouse equalised midway through the second half.
The scene was set for an uncompromising cup tie from the second minute when Ponte’s Scott Brown was booked for a foul.
Chances were at a premium in the opening half, although Colls keeper Ryan Musselwhite had to make a save when he parried a shot by Mark Jones.
Scott McGowan went close with a clever effort while Taylor Kennerley’s shot was easily dealt with by Musselwhite.
At the other end, Whitehouse got a shot in only for the ball to drift wide.
The deadlock was broken on the stroke of half-time when the hosts nudged ahead with Jones reacting well to get to a loose ball first after Musselwhite had been unable to hold on to Sam Hind’s low shot.
Colls were more of a threat after the break as they responded to Parry’s half-time words.
Kane Reece had their first good chance only to hit his effort high over the bar after Vaughan Redford had set the opportunity up with a good run infield from the right.
Mickey Dunn went on a superb mazy run, but could not find a finish and the home goal remained intact.
Top scorer Eli Hey then went close for the first time when only denied by a terrific save from home keeper Greg Hall, who got fingertips to a rising shot that looked destine to hit the back of the net.
There was a scare at the other end as referee Michael Barlow waved away Northwich appeals for a penalty as Jimmy Williams was accused of having a hold of McGowan.
But it was 1-1 on 68 minutes when Ponte skipper Whitehouse beat the home keeper with a brilliantly taken free-kick.
They looked to kick on, but Northwich resisted and fired back with the game end to end now.
Hind’s shot was cleared off the line by Williams and Cody Cromack came up with a well timed tackle to deflect McGowan’s shot over.
But McGowan did make it 2-1 to the home team on 78 minutes as he sneaked in at the far post to head home Hind’s cross.
Colls looked to hit back again, but could not break through a stubborn Northwich defence and in injury-time it was the hosts on target again to seal their place in the last 16 of the national competition and keep their Wembley dream alive.
There did not appear to be much contact, but Stapleton was penalised for a foul on Kazim Waite-Jackson to bring about a penalty. Although Musselwhite saved McGowan’s spot-kick to his left, the striker was first to the rebound to make it 3-1.
With that the FA Vase run was over for Pontefract and it is back to the Toolstation NCE League for them now as they concentrate on getting their title bid going again.
Assistant manager Craig Rouse had no complaints afterwards.
He said: “Full credit to 1874 Northwich, the best side progressed.
“We gave a good account of ourselves in the second half, but Northwich deserved the result. Good club, good people, hope they go and win it now.”
1874 Northwich: Hall, Connor, Mitchell, Pritchard, L Jackson, Woolley, Jones, Hind, Parker (Waite-Jackson 73), Kennerley (R Jackson 60), McGowan.
Pontefract Collieries: Musselwhite, Greenhough, Williams (Jeffs 79), Clarke, Whitehouse, Redford, Brown, Cromack (Stapleton 76), Dunn (Willis 86), Hey, Reece.
Referee: Michael Barlow
Collieries have no time to dwell on their FA Vase disappointment as they return to NCE League action with a couple of big games in the next week.
They travel to Pickering Town this Saturday and can expect a big test from opponents level on points with them in the Premier.
Fourth-placed Pickering have played four more games than Ponte, but were unbeaten in six before they lost 3-2 at home to Maltby Main last Saturday to stay below Colls in the table.
Pontefract are also in action next Tuesday as they begin the process of catching the games up on their rivals. They are at home to another capable side in eighth-placed Penistone Church (kick-off 7.45pm).
With recent postponements and the FA Vase commitment, Colls have been left with a backlog of fixtures. They now find themselves 15 points behind leaders AFC Mansfield with as many as seven games in hand on them.