Melton Town’s FA Cup adventure came to an end, but not before they had threatened another huge upset against Cleethorpes Town.
Having knocked out Worksop Town two weeks ago, Leon Fray’s goal gave Town the edge over another set of Northern Premier League opponents at half-time.
Cleethorpes equalised just minutes into the second half as they looked to emphasise their higher-league status, only for Town to come roaring back, hitting the bar and winning a penalty.
But former Manchester United keeper Theo Richardson’s save from Kadeem Price’s spot-kick proved pivotal, Cleethorpes going ahead within minutes before sealing the match with a late third.
But Saturday at Signright Park, with BT Sport TV cameras in attendance, was never going to be all about the result, but more a chance to showcase how far the club has come.
And in Cleethorpes, an opportunity to see what is possible in the years ahead.
On paper the odds were stacked in favour of the upwardly-mobile Owls, studded with former Football League professionals, with three titles in a handful of seasons and a Wembley trip two years ago in the FA Vase final.
But on a scorching afternoon, Cleethorpes quickly discovered they were in a game.
Melton included their own former pro Nathan Arnold in the starting XI, along with Kadeem Price who had come off the bench to score the equaliser at Worksop.
And it was Price who forced the first save from Richardson with an acrobatic effort as Melton gradually built a foothold in the tie.
Parsons almost played in Price clear on goal before Fray, charging forward, exchanged passes with Arnold before shooting wide.
And Arnold then found space to run on goal and forced a decent save.
Having grafted so hard to build a little pressure, Melton made it pay when Tom Manship’s corner caused a scramble, and Fray poked home at the second attempt to send most of Town’s record crowd of 400-plus into raptures.
As much of a threat that Town carried up front, the work of the back four was equally impressive.
Well marshalled by Leon Fray and the outstanding Cameron Gilchrist, with protection in front from player-manager Manship, Melton harried and pressed the visitors’ impressive forward line, denying them even the faintest sniff of goal.
Yet out of nowhere Cleethorpes thought they had drawn level, six minutes before half-time, when former Oldham Athletic striker Scott Vernon turned the ball in, only for the flag to wave for offside.
Minutes later Parsons almost doubled the lead, wriggling past one defender before smacking a shot against the bar.
Town’s half-time lead was deserved, but in relentless sun and sapping heat, fitness looked likely to yet play a big role in the end result.
Perhaps stung by a half-time dressing down, and with Manship sitting out the second half, Cleethorpes started much brighter and were level within 90 seconds.
Having quickly worked a move down the right to win a corner, Oli Donald rose highest at the far post to nod down the set piece into the path of Brandon Buckley who swept a shot inside Peet’s right-hand post.
Stunned by the quick response, Melton’s play, so well-drilled and disciplined before the break, suddenly began to look ragged.
But they regrouped quickly and admirably to hit the woodwork for the second time.
The Cleethorpes’ defence again found itself turned and Price’s fine lob over the onrushing Richardson looked set to drop into the net only to bounce agonisingly behind off the top of the bar.
At the other end, Flett curled a shot around the post as the game opened up, but Town had a golden chance to restore their lead just after the hour when Parsons, facing away from goal near the edge of the box, was needlessly tripped and the penalty was given.
Price struck it well enough, but Richardson dived low to his right to turn the effort around the post.
It felt like a potential turning point and within three minutes so it proved to be.
Minutes later Rob Peet was at full stretch to turn Vernon’s low shot around the far post, and from the resulting corner, Ben Clappison nodded the visitors into a 65th-minute lead.
Richardson twice had to be alert to cut out danger from Price and Reeve, as the ball over the defence continued to cause problems, but it took a brilliant save from Peet to deny Vernon’s well-placed piledriver.
Space was beginning to open up more and more now as the chase for an equaliser, and the conditions, presented the visitors with more sights of goal.
And six minutes from time, they had a killer third when Buckley pounced on a tired clearance to play in Lewis Collins who took the ball around Peet and finished well.
Cleethorpes almost added a late fourth when Josh Batty’s deflected shot hit a post, but that would not have told the story of the match.
Reeve still found the energy in the final moments, when the cause was lost, to burst through and force Richardson to stop a fierce drive. It was a fitting finale to a proud afternoon for the hosts.
Town: R. Peet (c), S. Beaver, N. Benjamin (K. Reek 75), T. Manship (T. Rigby 45), C. Gilchrist, L. Fray, N. Arnold, A. Day, M. Reeve, R. Parsons, K. Price. Subs unused: S. Wilson, C. Hiubbitt, E. Appleton, B. Beange.