TONY Mowbray was delighted his side had avoided a gruelling Tuesday night trip to Aldershot. Middlesbrough's players were eagerly awaiting yesterday's FA Cup fifth round draw, safe in the knowledge their participation was guaranteed.
But as the dust settled on Lukas Jutkiewicz's stoppage-time winner on Saturday, there were two groups of people who were not quite so happy about the dramatic turn of events.
The first were the travelling party from Aldershot, and having pushed their Championship opponents so hard for 96 minutes, it was cruel on the League Two side to concede so deep into injury time.
The second were Jutkiewicz's mates. Born and raised in Southampton, most of the striker's friends live quite close to Aldershot and had been looking forward to attending a replay down south.
When Danny Hylton cancelled out Jutkiewicz's 83rd-minute header two minutes from time, it looked like their wish had been granted. Eight minutes later, however, and Boro's trip to the EBB Stadium was off.
“There's a lot of relief in the dressing room that we've avoided a replay because we've got a lot of travelling coming up with Ipswich away next, so another long replay would not have been ideal,” said Jutkiewicz, who took his tally for the season into double figures with his match-winning strike.
“Mind you, I'm not too popular with a lot of my mates because they're from down there. I'm from Southampton and they were telling me they wanted a draw because they planned to go to the replay.
“A draw would have been the perfect result for them because then they could have seen me in the replay. They might be annoyed with me, but I think the lads here are grateful.”
Relief was the abiding emotion among players and supporters alike at the final whistle as this will not be an afternoon that lingers long in the memory unless you happen to come from Aldershot.
Boro made it in the end to reach the FA Cup fifth round for the first time in four seasons, but their laboured performance was in keeping with the general downturn in form that has been evident since the turn of the year.
For much of a largely frustrating afternoon, there was little to choose between the two sides despite the 64 league places that separated them at kick-off.
Marvin Emnes was producing one of those listless displays that have been all too frequent this season, while the central midfield pairing of Nicky Bailey and Richie Smallwood was struggling to muster the creativity required to break down an obdurate Aldershot rearguard.
Jutkiewicz's two goals ultimately made the difference – the first a back-post header from Adam Reach's right-wing cross and the second a clinical low finish off the inside of the post – and while there will have to be a marked improvement if Boro are to continue to progress in this season's competition, other results underlined just how hard it can be to see off a well-drilled lower-league side at home.
Norwich City were embarrassed by non-league Luton, QPR were thrashed by League One MK Dons. So while Boro's two FA Cup victories against Hastings and Aldershot have hardly been anything to write home about, the minimum requirement on each occasion was met.
“These games are difficult,” said Mowbray. “Just ask (Norwich manager) Chris Hughton or (QPR manager) Harry Redknapp. You're sat in the dug-out expecting to win and the fans are expecting to win too, but even though they were from League Two, they were very organised.
“I could see after two minutes they were reassessing their shape, they had various game plans they were able to enact and they knew who they were pressing on against.
“They played exceptionally well without the ball, and while they didn't create much, they scored a brilliant goal. It was a great ball, a great take and a great finish, yet we're in the hat and we managed to scrape through.”
Aldershot's goal was scored by Danny Hylton, whose tally of eight strikes makes him the leading goalscorer in this season's FA Cup.
The striker had spent most of Monday clearing snow off Aldershot's EBB Stadium pitch in order to ensure he was able to serve the final game of a three-match suspension in his side's League Two game with Northampton 24 hours later.
When he slotted past Jason Steele in the 88th minute, his efforts looked like being worthwhile. Ultimately, though, the final say went to Jutkiewicz.
“For a minute there, it looked as though it could be our day, but there are some brilliant players in the Boro team and if they got one more chance they were going to take it,” said Hylton. “All in all, it was worth the snow shovelling and we can take an awful lot of positives out of the game.
“We'll have to see if eight goals in the cup finishes as the best this season. Some of the big boys in the Premier League might have something to say because they will be involved until the latter stages.”
Boro will also be involved in those latter stages, and while Saturday's attendance of fewer than 13,000 might suggest the FA Cup has lost much of its lustre, Jutkiewicz is confident interest will pick up now the competition is down to the last 16.
“The Cup really gets going from the fifth round and you'll see a lot more interest and a lot more fans turning up from now on,” he said. “People talk about the Cup no longer being relevant, but you only have to look at the bumps and bruises in our dressing room to see how much everyone wanted to win.”