ACCRINGTON Stanley have never let themselves or their fans down on the big occasions this season. Every time an exceptional performance is demanded of them, the Reds don't disappoint and if anyone had them down for a loss against Colchester they did so at their peril.
Stanley, the only part-timers left in the FA Cup, had to once more raise their game in front of a record sell-out crowd at the Interlink Express Stadium against the Second Division promotion-chasers.
But United boss Phil Parkinson admitted he was perhaps the most relieved man in the stadium after the goalless third round draw. "They are a good side, there is no doubt about that. Anyone who comes here expecting an easy game is in for a rude awakening," said the United chief.
He knows his side will have the upper hand with home advantage in the replay on Tuesday but he also knows his team are only involved in it thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Simon Brown.
All the fans waited with bated breath as Paul Cook headed a Rory Prendergast cross towards the goal in injury-time. Cook himself admitted he was ready to turn and celebrate when Brown pulled off a stunning one-handed save to deny the Reds a deserved victory.
"My keeper was magnificent," said Parkinson. "And I am relieved but they gave us what I expected - a tough game."
Midfielder Cook was shocked he hadn't scored a momentous winner.
"I hit it perfectly. I was ready to run away to celebrate but their keeper has made some great saves throughout the match. I am proud to be part of this club and we have done ourselves justice again. We are only part-time but we didn't let anyone down."
Boss Coleman admitted he was ready to jump up and down when the ball hit Cook's head.
"It was a great header and he has lost three more hairs off his forehead. He hasn't got that many and doesn't usually like heading the ball! It was a magnificent save - I am just bitterly disappointed we didn't win it at home. A couple of the players looked like a boxer on the ropes at times but we still came back and had a few more digs and I am proud of them all."
The whole occasion was certainly one to remember for Stanley's first appearance in the third round since 1961. There was a sea of red balloons which were given out at the ground and then an opera singer got the crowd nicely warmed up for when the players ran out onto the pitch to a rapturous reception.
The TV cameras were poised again and the national media awaited another cup upset after Stanley had claimed the scalps of Huddersfield and Bournemouth in the first two rounds.
The game began at a fast and furious pace - and there was little let up throughout despite the Reds having played a tough game against Morecambe just two days earlier.
It looked like it would be first blood to the U's when Karl Duguid tried his luck from the edge of the area on 10 minutes.
It was a soft shot but Reds keeper Jamie Speare was rooted to the spot and everyone was stunned when it hit the post - although fortunately for Stanley it was cleared.
The Reds had their first real chance on 14 minutes when Steve Halford played in a stunning ball which Paul Mullin could only head into Brown's arms. The pacey Duguid then beat the off-side trap minutes later but both Halford and Robbie Williams did well to force him wide and put him off.
As the action went from end to end, Lutel James was in the thick of it after Andy Procter's effort had been blocked on the half hour. James thumped the ball with his right foot but it went across the face of the goal and just wide.
Stanley then suffered a set-back when Andy Gouck, hero from the Huddersfield clash, was stretchered off after suffering a deep cut to his knee but Steve Flitcroft came in as a straight replacement on 36 minutes.
The Reds then had a great spell just before half time when a Rory Prendergast cross across the goalline was cleared by Gavin Johnson with the unmarked James waiting to pounce.
Whatever Coleman said at half-time did the trick as the Reds looked certain to get a vital goal after the restart. James had a shot blocked on 51 minutes, Flitcroft raced onto the loose ball and whacked it goalwards from eight yards out - with Brown pulling off a point-blank save to keep the Reds out.
Four minutes later and James burst through and for once had Brown beaten with a chip - but once more the Reds were denied as the crossbar came to United's rescue. Dean Calcutt then came on and he immediately played in a fierce cross which Prendergast got to on the goalline but somehow Brown managed to scramble the ball away. "I should have scored that," admitted the tricky winger, still shaking his head after the game.
Cook could then have scored the goal of the third round with a volley from 35 yards on 72 minutes but it was deflected wide. Then, it seemed United had broken the deadlock ten minutes from time. Scott McGleish, despite wearing a bandage on his head protecting the six stitches he had last week, got his head to the ball and Speare was beaten. But, as at the other end, the woodwork got in the way.
There was still time for Mullin to head over from six yards two minutes from time and Cook's last ditch header.
"We had a hatful of chances. I have been a goalscorer all my life, I would have hoped I would have put one of them away!" said Coleman. "I can't believe Rory's on the line. That is a goal and when Lutel got through, if he had taken another step it might have opened up a bit more for him but hindsight is a wonderful thing
"But I asked them to be more attack-minded, more positive and they took it on board. I can't complain and we are still in it. We will work on finishing in training - the lads like that - and hopefully we will get it right for the replay"