A shot at silverware would have been a fitting way for Royal Wootton Bassett Town to finish a season that has delivered much cup success.
And after convincing Bluefin Sports Hellenic League Challenge Cup knockout victories against Clanfield and Bourton Rovers that appeared firmly within sight.
Alas, it was not meant to be as Sam Collier's side suffered an agonising 2-1 semi-final defeat away against Kidlington Reserves.
In the strangest of years (at least the strangest since the previous one), Bassett had been reduced primarily to cup action. And by virtually all measures they succeeded.
Early in the campaign they enjoyed a record equalling run in the FA Cup, which was followed by a similar journey in the FA Vase. While they may have stuttered a bit in the Challenge Cup group stages after lockdown was lifted, Bassett did enough to progress before advancing in emphatic fashion to the final four.
But that was to be where their journey – and season – was finally brought to an end.
The outcome of the game against Kidlington ultimately hinged on ten decisive second half minutes.
The Division One East hosts - whose side was littered with players from Kidlington's Southern League first team - took the lead on 57 minutes as ex-Bassett sharpshooter Steve Robertson produced a trademark fine, poacher's finish following good set up play from Liam Gilbert.
Two minutes later Bassett's task was made tougher as TJ Bohane was dismissed for kicking out after he felt he had been pushed.
And Bassett were then almost instantly reduced to nine men - albeit temporarily - as Matt Berry-Hargreaves was sent to the sin bin.
His time in the reflection room coincided with Kidlington doubling their advantage as an unfortunate Jon Beeden headed into his own net.
At 2-0 down Bassett's task seemed impossible.
But the visitors grabbed a lifeline when, still with just nine men on the field, George Smith burst into the box and earned a penalty. The midfielder duly dusted himself down and made no mistake from the spot to halve the deficit his side faced.
With that offering hope, Bassett desperately pressed on in the game's closing stages. Kidlington – with their full complement of players – were forced into a rearguard action. They managed to weather the pressure they were put under though, Zac Skinner coming closest for Bassett in the final ten minutes of an eventful second half.
It had been an eventful contest throughout.
Even though the first half finished goalless, it was not without incident and offered a preview of the twists and turns that were to come following the restart.
Early on, Sam Ockwell placed a free kick narrowly over after Bohane had drawn a foul on the edge of the box. Robertson then went close at the other end before Ralph Graham fed a neat pass through to Smith in a favourable position, but the midfielder's powerful shot went way wide of the Kidlington goal.
Bassett then came the closest they had got so far in the game as Beeden rose to meet a free kick and saw his header graze the bar.
Midway through the half the hosts thought they had gone ahead when a cross was whipped into the box and, after eluding those waiting to get on the end of it, appeared to have crossed the line. 'Keeper Harrison Ellis hacked clear though and neither official indicated that a goal had in fact been scored.
Ellis was soon forced into a couple of good saves, while at the other end Smith forced a stop from home custodian Christian Lawrence after being played in by Bohane.
There was more action in the opening stages of the second half.
Smith unlocked the Kidlington defence, creating a one-on-one opportunity for Bohane, whose shot was blocked by a great Lawrence save. Meanwhile, a slip from defender Adam Corcoran fashioned what seemed a simple chance for the hosts, but which was wasted.
The deadlock would eventually be broken though – and for Bassett it would usher in a pivotal ten minute period that ultimately spelled the end of their season.
It was a fine semi-final effort from Collier's side. But in the end, it was a case of so near, yet so far.
Time now to regroup as the 2021-22 season fast approaches. Here's hoping for some more cup success – and a welcome return to a full slate of league action too.
Credit: Stuart Smedley
Last modified on Thursday 20th May 2021 at 12:23