Alfreton boss Billy Heath said he was “so proud” of his players despite the non-league side bowing out of the FA Cup in a narrow 1-0 second-round replay defeat at Walsall.
Mat Sadler’s Saddlers scraped past the National League North side to nervously book a third-round trip to Southampton in January.
But Heath could not have been happier with the way his side matched up the team from 42 places above them in the English football pyramid.
He said: “We’ve had two really good games between two really honest teams.
“We gave them a real game at our place last week and in the second half tonight I actually thought we were the better team.”
Over 180 minutes of football, after last Tuesday night’s 0-0 draw, it took just one goal to separate the two sides – and Walsall got it six minutes in through Jamille Matt.
Douglas James-Taylor’s menacing run down the left opened up the non-league side’s defence, skipper Donervon Daniels’ miscued shot fell kindly and Matt kept his cool to score from close range – the injury-hit striker’s first goal of the season on only his fourth start.
“Even that one goal was a bit lucky,” said Heath. “It was just a deflection that fell kindly for them.”
But there was no further breakthrough as Alfreton keeper George Willis made solid saves to deny Brandon Comley, Tom Knowles, Ryan Stirk and a James-Taylor header, while Matt twice should have done better in one-on-ones.
In a game of 10 bookings, including one for visiting boss Heath, the visitors were starting to threaten a lot more as half-time approached. And they stepped it up after the break.
Walsall had chances to seal it a bit more comfortably as James-Taylor hit a post with a wide angled chip, while Liam Gordon went close with a left-foot shot.
But the closest either side came was a blocked shot from visiting skipper Shaun Brisley which span up over the bar – to ensure that it is the Saddlers who go to St Mary’s.
“I enjoyed it from lots and lots of perspectives,” said Walsall boss Sadler. “But especially from a team perspective.
“Those are the sort of games you really like to win when you know every player has had to contribute to get you a result.
“The work that they have had to put in to help us win the game against a very tough Alfreton team gives you a good feeling.
“And I was delighted that it was Jamille Matt who got the goal as it topped off a very good performance from him and will do him the world of good.”