SALTASH United produced one of their most character-filled performances for many seasons on Saturday to book their place in the last four of the Cornwall Senior Cup.
To achieve it, they had to overcome tough opposition in front of their own supporters, a sending off early in the second half, the dismissal of their manager (for the first time in his football career) and 30 minutes of extra time on an energy-sapping pudding of a pitch.
I don't make a habit of criticising officials and I understand how difficult it must be to referee matches, but I cannot write an honest appraisal of this game without mentioning the significant part the referee played in a match of such standing.
Saltash won this quarter-final in spite of the referee's performance. Yes, both clubs could argue – indeed did argue – that he was bad for both sides, but in truth all the big decisions went against Saltash.
After Sam Hughes had given the Ashes an 11th minute lead with a quality finish from the edge of the penalty area, Launceston pushed hard for an equaliser, with man of the match Tom Blackler having to produce several fine saves to keep them out.
But in the five minutes before half-time, the referee made his first two big mistakes. In the 40th minute Hughes was tripped by Dan Jefferis inside the penalty area but the referee waved away Saltash's appeals for a penalty.
Two minutes later Richard Maddison, who had been giving Launceston left back Chris Saunders the runaround, was hacked down by Saunders in a last-man situation that should have brought a red card.
Saunders was only shown a yellow – but didn't appear for a second half which was only six minutes old when Saltash midfield man Jonny Morris was shown a straight red for a late challenge on Robbie Blake, who retaliated by pushing into Morris, leading to a melee of players trying to calm the situation.
It looked a harsh decision to send Morris off and it left Saltash with a huge task to hold onto their 1-0 lead. But instead of defending deep, the Ashes continued to trade chances and they were unfortunate when a Matt Cusack shot came back off the inside of a post in the 70th minute.
Seven minutes later came another incredible decision from the referee. Cusack's cross from the left was handled by Jefferis two yards inside the penalty area. The referee blew for the handball, but then proceeded to walk across to the edge of the area to place the ball a few inches outside.
Given this reprieve, Launceston continued to search for an equaliser but substitute Sam Scott's speculative 30-yard shot, two minutes from time, sliced off his boot and drifted well wide, much to his disgust.
The referee thought otherwise. He pointed for a corner, to the astonishment of most people in the ground, and from the resulting cross, Chris Menhenick forced the ball over the line for the equaliser.
Before the game could restart, the referee called Saltash boss Martin Burgess onto the pitch, apparently claiming he had called him a cheat, and sent him off.
Burgess walked away to stand away from the dugouts, but he was followed by the referee, who said he had to go to either the dressing room or the clubhouse. When the game eventually restarted, there was hardly time for another chance before extra time, during which Launceston launched a fierce onslaught in the opening 15 minutes. Only the brilliance of Blackler and the woodwork, which denied Liam Tilley, kept the tie level.
The second period was more even and the game seemed destined to be decided by a penalty shoot-out when Hughes latched onto a long clearance and lifted the ball over the advancing Dan Stevenson into the net for a quality finish.