Football can so often be a very cruel game with the inability to take your chances so often punished with an agonising and unfair defeat.
And it was such a fate that the unfancied Mansfield Town discovered to their cost as they exited the FA Cup at the fifth round stage against First Divsion Carlisle United despite controlling the entire game.
The Cumbrian side showed little sign of their top flight status against the Fourth Division leaders as brave Stags, who were defending a 23 match unbeaten streak at home, came so close to producing one of the shocks of the decade in front of the Match of the Day cameras.
But it was not to be as Carlisle, who relied heavily on the excellent performance of goalkeeper Alan Ross and goal-line clearances from Bill Green, grabbed the all-important winner in the first half when Bobby Owen showed all his class to turn well and power a shot past the helpless Rod Arnold.
The goal was a massive blow to little Mansfield who, despite their lowly league status, still entertained hopes of a dream Wembley FA Cup final appearance.
Sandy Pate, who began his career with Scottish junior side Renfrew Juniors before joining Stags in October 1967, said: “As crazy as it might sound, we really felt we could get to the final this year. We had a good team full of committed players and we were used to playing games against the big teams.
“After having most of the game we lost to a half-hit shot from the edge of the box. It was a real kick in the teeth for us.”
Pate, who went on to make 471 appearances for the Field Mill club between 1967 and 1978, added: “We pushed and pushed but we just couldn’t get the equaliser. It was really disappointing for us. We had some good players in those days and always felt we could give any team a good game.”
Fellow defender Kevn Bird, who began his career as an apprentice at his hometown club Doncaster Rovers before being released in 1972, said Stags were confident of extending their already impressive cup run.
“We went on a great cup run that season. We were not scared when we came up against teams from a higher league”, he said. “We had a good team and I think we took some teams by surprise because we were able to attack them and they didn’t like us getting at them.
“Back in those days we only got �50 a week, but we didn’t mind. We were there to win games and play football and we just got on with things.
“Players got a bit of extra money if the crowd was bigger so cup games meant a few extra pounds in our pay packets.
“Carlisle were a top division side, the Premier League of the day, but we were not bothered. We had a real good go at them and ran them ragged at times, but they got the goal and went through. We gave them a real scare.
“The game was on Match of the Day that night and I remember watching it on TV later that day. It was exciting to be on the TV.”
Mansfield, roared on by a noisy and expectant Field Mill crowd, had begun the game in confident mood and were denied a deserved goal on 20 minutes when a blindside run by John Lathan ripped through the visiting defence. But he was unable to fire past the inspired Ross.
The Carlisle ‘keeper once more came to the rescue on 37 minutes when he narrowed the angle to superbly save with one hand to deny Ray Clarke and keep Carlisle ahead.
Carlisle could so easily have sewn the game up just 60 seconds after Owen fired them into the lead.
A bad backpass from Colin Foster failed to reach its target. Rod Arnold then failed to clear the ball leaving Frank Clarke with a clear sight at goal. But Clarke somehow failed to seize the glorious chance and Stags lived to fight another day.
It looked like Stags had levelled the contest on 52 minutes when Terry Eccles seemed certain to nod home Gordon Hodgson’s free-kick. But United’s skipper Bill Green stuck out a boot at the vital moment to hook the ball away to safety.
Green was once again the man to foil Stags when he cleared a Jim McCaffrey effort off the line as the determined home side piled on the late pressure.
But it was not to be for Mansfield, who emerged with great credit but no passage into the next round.
Opposition manager Alan Ashman, who saw his side rewarded with a quarter-final tie at home Fulham, said after the game that he was delighted to have got away with the win.
“I am pleased to have got away with a win this afternoon. Mansfield are a very good team.”
While Ashman was left relieved his Mansfield counterpart Dave Smith was left to rue a missed opportunity.
“I feel really sorry for the lads”, he said. “They really gave everything but we didn’t have a shred of luck. I was disappointed in Carlisle, they are a poor First Division side. We bettered them in every department. We played the football, they got the goal.”
MANSFIELD: Arnold, Pate, B. Foster, Matthews, C. Foster, Bird, Lathan, Eccles, Clarke, Hodgosn, McCaffrey.