Ballymena United weather the Welders' storm
H&W Welders 2 - Ballymena Utd 3
Both bosses cut frustrated figures but couldn't help accentuate the positives following Ballymena United's incredible comeback victory over brave Harland & Wolff Welders.
Sky Blues boss Glenn Ferguson - who, having seen his side miss a penalty at 2-0 down, could barely believe his eyes as United roared back with three goals in the last 12 minutes - was fulsome in his praise of the fighting spirit his men have demonstrated time and time again this season.
"These boys never know when they're beaten and that's a great quality to have," he said. "Ideally, we wouldn't keep getting ourselves into those situations in the first place but that just adds to the excitement of it all, I suppose.
"Full credit to the Welders because they played their part in a fantastic game and will feel like they've been robbed of a place in the next round. We started well but failed to take our chances and it looked like we were going to be punished for it.
"We've fought back in a lot of games this season but when we missed the penalty, that looked like being the end of it because it seemed as though our lifeline had gone - but these players just keep on battling and, eventually, they got their reward for that in the end."
United reject Michael McLellan netted a first-half penalty before stroking home a wonderfully composed effort early in the second period and, when keeper Michael Dougherty repelled Matthew Tipton's 76th minute spot-kick, the Welders were in dream land against last season's beaten Irish Cup finalists.
Substitute Darren Boyce threw Ballymena a lifeline with a close-range conversion shortly afterwards, though, and Tipton atoned with an acrobatic equaliser ahead of Gary Thompson having the final say of a madcap goalmouth scramble deep, deep into injury-time - completing a comeback which had never appeared to be on the cards over the course of a soaking wet east Belfast afternoon.
"I don't think we deserved to lose," said crestfallen home boss Gary Smyth.
"I thought we were excellent and would say that the better team didn't win, the stronger team did.
"We just got ourselves caught sitting deeper and deeper, trying to defend what we had and couldn't get out.
"They're gutted in there and it will be tough to lift their spirits because they were so close to getting the biggest result in the club's history."
H&W Welders: Dougherty, Beattie, W Armstrong, Harris, Spence, Dickson, Deans, Davidson, Magennis, McLellan 8, Middleton. Substitutions: Devine (Harris, 56 mins).
Ballymena Utd: Allen, Ervin, McNally, Taylor, Gardiner, Gawley, Thompson, Kane, Cushley, Jenkins, Tipton. Substitutions: Boyce (Gardiner, 53 mins), Munster (Taylor, 70 mins), McCutcheon (Gawley, 63 mins).
Man of the match: Paul Dickson
Match rating: 9/10
Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey)