MIDDLESBROUGH manager Tony Mowbray heaped praise on part-timers Hastings United after bursting their FA Cup bubble.
The Teessiders put in a solid show to beat the Ryman League side 4-1 and book a fourth-round home tie against Aldershot Town.
Boro got there after seeing off a side 131 places below them in English football’s pecking order – but it wasn’t as emphatic as the scoreline may suggest.
At half-time Boro were just one up. They had missed a penalty and goalkeeper Jason Steele had made two good saves – one a point- blank block from his own defender Andy Halliday – and the visitors had seen one disallowed.
After the break Halliday bundled home from a corner, Merouane Zemmama saw a deflected effort squeeze in to add to his early opener and, after Hastings pulled one back, Ishmael Miller wrapped it up late on for a side far from at their best.
Mowbray admitted the magic moment at the Riverside came as Bradley Goldberg cracked home Hastings’ goal, a consolation strike which 1,068 travelling supporters can hang their memories on.
The 30-yard sizzler out of the blue had Mowbray on his feet joining the generous applause. “I did applaud it because it was a fantastic strike the lad can be proud of, and that will give their fans something to remember their day out by.
“I wouldn’t have been clapping, though, if it had been the equaliser!”
Mowbray added: “We weren’t great, but at the end of the day it is the FA Cup and all that matters is the fact you get through.
“Credit to Hastings, though, because they gave it a good crack.
“They played decent football, they created two chances and their goal was a great strike.
“I hope they enjoyed the day. Their fans seemed to be singing all day and I hope they had a great trip. Their team did them proud.
“It could have been different. It was only 1-0 at half-time and you always have to be cautious when it is finely balanced like that.
“Plenty of teams have gone out in those situations before now, and as they showed they could score a goal from out of nothing.
“They played good football and, to be fair, that probably allowed us to play a bit, to press them high up and pass in dangerous areas.”
He went on: “It may have been different had we been away.
“So great credit to them as a team and as a club.
“They had slogged through nine games to get to this stage and that is a great achievement for a team who are not even in the Conference. They can be proud of the way they set about it, the way they played and the spirits they showed. We wish them well in the rest of the season.”
Despite the spirited show from the minnows, though, Mowbray also had praise for his own patched-up side for their professional display.
Boro had 13 key men unavailable and were forced to play midfielders Nicky Bailey and Halliday as central defenders.
They also gave debuts to two teenagers from the club’s prodigious Academy production line, midfielders Jordan Jones, 18, and 16-year-old Bryn Morris.
Mowbray said: “It wasn’t ideal, but we played the stongest team we could and we had enough on the pitch to get through.
“For the neutrals the story will be how well Hastings did but we played well, we worked hard and we scored good goals too.
“It was a professional perfromance. They had their moments but we did enough to get through.
“I would not say it was relief. We always looked likely to win. We did the job.”
Boro started brightly and should have gone ahead on 16 minutes when Miller was bundled over in the box but fired the resulting penalty weakly staight at the keeper.
They drew first blood on 22 minutes as Moroccan midfielder Zemmama collected a pass 22 yards out and turned to send a neat shot dipping just under the bar.
Hastings started to press forward more and after a good spell they almost levelled just before the break as Bailo Camara whipped in a cross which Halliday turned towards his own goal – sending Steele full length to save.
Boro scored within two minutes of the restart . Luke Williams whipped in a corner and when Miller took a swing and missed it completely, it bounced through for Halliday to crash home from six yards out.
Hastings went close on 59 minutes when skipper Lee Carey drilled in a 25-yard screamer which Steele pushed on to the post. Boro made it three on 68 minutes when a 25-yard effort from Zemmama took a wicked deflection off a defender and flashed in.
Straight down the other end a minute later, Hastings sent their supporters home with honour satisfied as Camara touched a ball to Goldberg – son of former Crystal Palace chairman Mark – and he lashed in from 30 yards.
Boro sealed it on 85 minutes as Haroun pushed into the box for Miller to slot a low shot home.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Steele; Halliday, Rhys Williams, Bailey, Parnaby (Haroun 73), Zemmama (Morris 82), Smallwood, Thomson, Reach, Miller, Luke Williams (Jones 61). Subs (not used): Leutwiler, Jutkiewicz, McDonald, Burgess.
Goals: Zemmama 22, Halliday 47, Zemmama 68, Miller 85.
HASTINGS UNITED: O’Brien; Whitehead, Vickers (Ellis 51), Ray, Cox (Manning 72), Carey, Jirbandey, Crellin, Dixon (Okojie 76), Camara, Goldburg. Subs (not used): George Howard, Daly, Richardson, Abbot.
Booked: Crellin, Vickers.
Goal: Goldburg 69.
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).