Clitheroe are out of the FA Trophy after losing 3-0 to Evo-Stik Premier Division leaders Altrincham in the first qualifying round.
It didn’t seem feasible that their worlds would collide as little as two years ago with the Robins three tiers above the Blues in the Conference National but the visitors ensured the gulf was narrowed at Moss Lane.
Simon Haworth’s men, who caused cup upsets against AFC Fylde and Workington last term, gave a good account of themselves in the first half as they kept the scoreline goalless.
Alty winger John Johnston tormented the away side throughout and he almost set up Josh Hancock on two occasions. The striker prodded against the bar after beating Jacob Gregory to his cross, and then he was a whisker away from converting at the far post.
After Gregory pulled a shot wide of the far post at the other end, Clitheroe enjoyed a spell of pressure.
Thomas Smyth’s header from a corner was diverted wide by Callum Jones before Tony Thompson prevented Jordan Hulme from putting in to his own net when turning the forward’s flick on to the underside of the crossbar.
Altrincham went close before the break but Stephen Rigby cleared Joel Bemmbo-Leta’s header off the line.
The hosts were far more threatening after the break and James Poole, on the turn, fired wide of the near post after the Blues failed to clear their lines.
The breakthrough came in the 54th minute and Chris Thompson won’t want to see this one replayed. The goalkeeper made a real hash when attempting to collect Johnston’s shot, allowing the ball to slip through his fingers and in to the net.
Once Clitheroe’s leading scorer Kurt Willoughby had whipped a set-piece from 25 yards out just around the upright, the away side were given a lifeline when Jake Moult was dismissed for dissent.
However, the Blues failed to make their numerical advantage count. Johnston’s effort was cleared off the line by Ryan Ellison while Thompson denied Hancock from point blank range.
Altrincham gave themselves a bit of breathing space with nine minutes remaining when substitute Tom Peers nodded Poole’s sumptuous set-piece past Thompson.
Then, in stoppage time, as the Blues committed men forward, Johnston broke and threaded the ball in to Peers to stroke the ball home for his second of the tie.
Clitheroe host Ossett town in the league on Saturday and are at Ashton Athletic in the LFA Challenge Trophy on Tuesday.