Rugby Town have the prospect of an FA Vase Fourth Round home tie against Lakenheath FC to look forward to in the New Year after successfully seeing off Stourport Swifts at the weekend following a rollercoaster penalty shoot-out.
The Stourport success came three days on from Town's youth team's 4-0 home defeat to a side from League One Cheltenham which finally brought an end to their record breaking adventure in the FA Youth Cup.
Liam O'Neill's young charges were just unable to replicate the performance from three weeks previously against another League One outfit Morecambe, but nevertheless still did the club proud once more in front of another large Butlin Road crowd.
The first team headed to Walshes Meadow on Saturday knowing that a win would see them into the Vase Fourth Round for the first time in 38 years, but they made a disastrous start when Drew Canavan scored for the hosts with a penalty after just two minutes.
Despite this early setback, Rugby went on to dominate the majority of the remainder of the first half, but their only reward for this was an equaliser from David Kolodynski.
When Kolodynski scored again shortly after the restart, it seemed that it would be a straightforward exercise for Town, but Stourport's Edilson Antonio made it 2-2 to set up a nerve jangling shoot-out from the spot.
Loyiso Recci, James Hancocks and Edwin Ahenkorah scored the visitors' first three penalties, and with the Swifts missing their first two, it meant that Rugby only needed to score one of their final two of the initial phase of the shoot-out to secure the victory.
Unfortunately for Valley, Luke English blazed his effort over the bar and new signing Dan Summerfield saw his strike saved, and with Stourport scoring twice more themselves, the tie went to sudden death penalties.
Max Johnson then confidently converted his spot-kick, but the pendulum swung in favour of the hosts when Kolodysnki missed his.
Fortunately Town keeper Ash Bodycote was equal to Stourport's next effort, before Barry Fitzharris edged his side 5-4 ahead to set up a third save of the shoot-out from Bodycote to deny Joe Hanson and guide a jubilant Rugby into the final 32 of the competition they famously won back in 1983.
Valley boss Carl Adams was a happy but understandably relieved man at the game's final outcome.
He said: "We fully deserved the victory but we certainly made it difficult for ourselves.
"It was a typical full blooded cup tie on a difficult pitch, but I thought we played really well - especially in the first half. Their keeper made a few really good saves and Stourport defended strongly too, so I was hoping at half-time that that wouldn't come back to bite us on the backside in the second
"Fortunately it didn't in the end, and the lads showed real character and togetherness out there and Ash (Bodycote) did the job for us with those saves in the shoot-out."
Town will now host Eastern Counties League Premier Lakenheath at Butlin Road on January 15th 2022, after the Suffolk based club overcame Shefford by a 3-2 margin thanks to a dramatic late winner of their own.
Reflecting on the draw, Adams commented: "All you can hope for at this stage is a home fixture, so it's great that we got that.
"Obviously we don't know too much about the opposition at the moment, but we will be working on that and hopefully we can get a big crowd in to Butlin Road in January and do the town proud.
"It's important that we don't lose focus in the mean time on the league, and there's four important UCL games scheduled between now and the Vase tie, so we need to continue the excellent form that we have shown of late."
To kick-off the quartet of fixtures, Rugby make the short trip to fellow top end contenders Lutterworth this Saturday, on the back of them scooping 27 points from the last 30 available in the league.
Town are level on points with 5th placed Lutterworth with an identical record from their 20 matches played but Rugby have an inferior goal difference.
Adams could welcome back to his squad up to five players who missed the Stourport victory, with the cup-tied Adam Shaw, Alex Lock and Madundo Semahimbo and the suspended Dylan Parker and Keenah Rosser all forced to sit it out last weekend.
New recruit Summerfield rejoins Valley having previously been at the club during the second half of Adams's first season in charge at Butlin Road in 2018/19. He has subsequently featured for Merthyr and in the Welsh Premier League for Haverfordwest.
# Valley's youngsters put in a brave effort in the Third Round of the FA Youth Cup last Wednesday evening, but after an even start to the game they fell behind on 13 minutes when Cheltenham's Brennan Barrett took advantage of some defensive uncertainty.
Robins skipper Joe Hunt doubled his side's advantage shortly before the interval, although both Leo Stone and Mason Platts had gone close for Rugby in between the two first half goals.
A quickfire Connor Jakeways double early into the second period ensured there would be no happy ending this time for Rugby though, leaving boss O'Neill to look back on the experience with considerable admiration.
He said: "I'm incredibly proud of what we have achieved in the competition this year. It's been an excellent opportunity for the lads and a great platform for them to show what they can do.
"I would also like to thank all of those that have supported us along the way. The numbers that have followed us home and away in the competition were truly superb and their contributions have been immense."