STANLEY’S whole FA¿Cup experience turned from sweet to sour in a frustrating weekend for the Reds.
While Accrington were licking their lips to be in the second round for the first time in six years, their second round clash with Barnet was unsavoury.
There was a controversial sending-off, a dubious last-minute penalty and a London replay which was followed by even more agony with the FA¿Cup draw on Sunday.
Four balls were left – Stanley, Manchester United, Gillingham and Leeds/Kettering – and any two of the three wouldn’t have been bad.
Then out came the Reds with a home draw and, after all the chaos of the day before, surely John Coleman’s side could have that bit of luck and get a tasty tie against Sir Alex Ferguson’s big guns.
But no, Gillingham await instead, to make the whole FA¿Cup experience seem unsatisfying at the moment when it promised so much.
The Reds were just a minute away from a bumper £27,000 pay-off and more money to come with a third-round tie when referee Steve Pawson ruined Coleman’s day.
They were already feeling hard done by as John Miles got the first sending-off in his 10-year career after a dangerous challenge on Ismail Yakubu.
At first glance it was hard to see what the crime was but after watching replays, the wideman went in for the challenge, tried to pull out and landed with both feet on Yakubu with the Stanley winger admitting he knew his fate as soon as the ref reached for his pocket.
But the 10 men battled valiantly and looked like they would see the game out until a long ball into the area led to defender Dean Winnard challenging Bees sub Jake Hyde in a desperate injury-time push by the visitors.
And while Pawson watched play go on, he looked across at his assistant who pointed to the spot, to most people’s amazement.
While Winnard did touch Hyde, it was more a tangle than a push and agony for the Reds as it was in the fifth injury time minute of six.
And up stepped top scorer John O’Flynn to send Stanley sub keeper Dean Bouzanis the wrong way to hit the Stanley players in their pockets after conceding another injury-time goal.
Cue Barnet boss Ian Hendon thinking happy thoughts while Coleman needed a good few minutes to calm down before addressing the press.
"There is nothing we can do about it as the game has gone but we were the best team, even with 10 men," said the Reds boss.
"Even the staunchest of Barnet fans will agree we deserved the win. It was not a sending-off but I can’t say too much else or I will get into trouble. The ref rushed to make a decision. Everyone can make a mistake as we are all human but he made an important decision in a rush.
"Then for the penalty, Dean did put his hands on the lad’s shoulder but if that was given in every game, there would be 20 penalties. He’s not done enough to bring him down but he has gone down. It was the actions of a desperate man but they prospered and scored.
"It seems everything that could go against us has. It is a real kick in the teeth as the assistant hasn’t been involved in the whole game and then he has given the penalty.
"And we had worked our socks off and should be in the third round but we won’t be the only team to have hard luck stories in the FA¿Cup and we have to take it on the chin."
It was such a frustrating end to the game for the Reds while Bees penalty hero O’Flynn admitted they were content with a draw.
"We said before the game that we would be happy to take them back to our place and we have done that," said the scorer.
And Stanley will feel it’s a huge chance that got away after bossing the game against a side who have lost their last six games on their travels, even though they were a man down.
Strikers Michael Symes and Bobby Grant were once again outstanding and there must be a few clubs coveting their services come the January transfer window.
Grant put Stanley ahead with a neat flick as he got on the end of Symes’ cross and his ball went in off the post.
And Grant turned provider to send Symes through on his own as a reduced Stanley side regained the lead.
Hendon criticised his side’s defence saying "you could drive a bus through it" but it doesn’t detract from the way the forward took the ball on the bounce and walloped it home.
And Stanley could have had more with Symes forcing a good save out of Jake Cole, Grant glancing a header wide and unmarked Symes also not finding the target.
The Reds defence similarly looked strong despite losing keeper Ian Dunbavin to a thigh injury just before half-time with Liverpool loan stopper Bouzanis coming in and pulling off a superb one-handed save to keep out O’Flynn.
But their first equalising goal, just after half-time, was a mistake by the Reds who couldn’t cut out Albert Jarrett’s cross and Yakubu leapt to head home at the far post.
The lead did only last three minutes and then it did look like the 10 men would hold on for what would be a much-celebrated victory against their League Two foes.
But expect the unexpected in the FA Cup which is why most clubs enjoy it - although it may take a few days for Coleman to regain his love for the world-famous competition.