Mansfield Town did themselves proud as their FA Cup dream tie slipped through their fingers with a 4-1 home defeat by Championship high-flyers Cardiff City in tonight’s FA Cup third round replay at the One Call Stadium.
So it will be Cardiff who now take on Premier League leaders Manchester City at the end of the month with Stags instead travelling to Morecambe for League Two points instead.
The Stags, who had only lost once in 20 games, gave as good as they got for much of this tie against Neil Warnock’s expensively-assembled Bluebirds.
But, having levelled through Danny Rose a minute after going behind in the first half, they were finally undone by two goals in six second half minutes and a late, late fourth.
A big home crowd, including onlooking City boss Pep Guardiola, did their best to roar Mansfield on and the players gave them their all.
But it wasn’t to be on a memorable night when Steve Evans’ men could walk off with heads held high and much hope for the rest of the league campaign.
Mansfield striker Kane Hemmings again missed out with his hamstring problem.
Hemmings is back in training but was not deemed fit enough to face the Bluebirds in front of a sell-out home crowd.
Instead, boss Steve Evans chose to play Alex MacDonald in an attacking role.
Striker Lee Angol dropped to the bench, as did winger Alfie Potter, with Hayden White restored to right back and Paul Anderson pushed forward into a right midfield role after deputising at right back.
Also back in the side into central midfield after injury was Joel Byrom.
With Manchester City waiting to face the winners, Cardiff inevitably named a strong line-up with just two changes from the weekend 4-0 win over Sunderland – their first win in six games.
Anthony Pilkington and Loic Damour came in for Sol Bamba and Nathanial Mendez-Laing.
The Stags forced tonight’s replay with an impressive 0-0 draw in Wales a week last Saturday.
A hectic start, with City having more of the ball, saw 10 minutes pass without a goal attempt until Byrom sent a 20-yard shot straight at the keeper.
Soon after, a defender got a leg onto a Hamilton shot that saw the ball trickle through to the keeper.
On 15 minutes Logan had his first work as Paterson launched the ball down the centre and Zohore reached it only to see the keeper steal the ball off him before he could get a shot away.
Benning made a good block and a good header away before the visitors came close again on 18 minutes as Hoilett, in space on the left of the box, tried to curl a finish across the keeper, Logan superbly turning it behind for a corner.
On 21 minutes Paterson showed good strength to hold the ball up and slip a pass to Pilkington, who whipped a low 20 yard shot just wide.
Hoilett jumped into a tackle on MacDonald on 25 minutes with home fans screaming for a red card only to see a yellow one held aloft.
Byrom played the free kick to the left of the box where Benning was unmarked but could only drive a finish well over the near angle.
Stags had another glimpse of goal on the half-hour as Mellis sent in a low cross from the left and Hamilton, with the best chance, kicked at fresh air with Rose, following-up, seeing his shot deflect for a corner.
The game then exploded into life with two goals in as many minutes.
Pearce had to get it just right to throw himself into a last ditch tackle on Damour in the box and concede a corner.
But from that flag kick, the visitors were ahead on 34 minutes.
Ralls sent it long to the far post where Morrison sent an angled header at goal. Logan was there to parry, but Ecuele Manga was quickest to react to turn the loose ball home from close range.
However, within a minute the home side were level through Rose. White put the ball across from the left and it fell invitingly for the striker, who steered home a deadly low finish.
Bennett was inches away from connecting to a Stags free kick in stoppage time as the home side ended the half on a high to huge applause.
Stags had the first attempt of the second half as Hamilton cued up Mellis for a low 18 yard shot that Etheridge gathered to his right on 55 minutes.
City then won a corner that saw Pilkington flick a header on the roof of the net.
The 58th minute saw applause for Stags fan Graham Foster, who has just passed away, and a booking for Joe Bennett for a trip on MacDonald.
Paterson then halted Rose with an arm on 61 minutes for City’s third yellow card.
Morrison was shown City’s fourth yellow and a third in six minutes for dissent.
Pearce made a crucial far post clearance for a corner with Zohore lurking, Stags then clearing the corner.
But on 66 minutes the Welsh club regained the lead.
Paterson curled in a superb low cross from the right and Hoilett was there first to poke home from close range.
The home dream began to die five minutes later as Cardiff went 3-1 up.
A low Damour cross came in from the right which fell perfectly for Pilkington to smash home the third from seven yards and the game was up for the League Two battlers.
Stags sent on Angol and Potter, then Logan was firmly behind a Zohore shot as we entered the last 10 minutes.
With just two minutes to go, Stags cruelly conceded a fourth as Hoilett blazed home a fine finish when a cross from the right was half-cleared to his feet.
STAGS: Logan; White, Bennett, Pearce, Benning; Anderson (Potter 79), Byrom (Angol 74), Mellis, Hamilton; MacDonald, Rose. Subs not used: Olejnik, Digby, Diamond, Atkinson, Spencer.
CARDIFF: Etheridge, Bennett, Morrison, Ecuele Manga, Richards, Ralls (Halford 74), Zohore (Bogle 85), Pilkington, Paterson, Damour, Hoilett (Healey 90). Subs not used: Murphy, Tomlin, Feeney, Mendez-Laing.
REFEREE: Geoff Eltringham of County Durham.
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Alex MacDonald.