FC Halifax Town were knocked out of the FA Trophy after a 1-0 defeat to Wrexham at the Shay.
The road to Wembley had been clearly signposted after Monday’s semi-final draw handed the winner a two-legged tie with Torquay.
That made the defeat all the more painful, with a below-par Town left to wonder what might have been had they produced the kind of performance that got them into the last eight against Dartford three days previously.
Exactly a month after Town’s last appearance on their home turf, or what is now left of it, Town didn’t experience a pleasant homecoming as the Wrexham fans were left chanting about Wembley come full-time after a frustrating night for the home side.
It was clear to see the half of the pitch that had seen sunlight and the one that hadn’t, with huge areas of the half in-front of the South Stand shaded a muddy brown.
But Town certainly showed on Saturday they could turn on the style, even on a problem pitch.
Neil Aspin could hardly have picked a more attacking line-up if Scott Boden had been selected to play in goal, with debutants Jack Muldoon and Danny Hattersley, second time around, and Richard Peniket in a front-three.
The direct running of Muldoon was an eye-catching feature of a scrappy opening, which was finally ended when Wrexham hit the bar through Luke Waterfall’s thumping shot.
The centre-back had earlier seen a shot blocked by a flying Kevin Roberts, while Connor Jennings brought a good save from Matt Glennon after a fine turn inside the box.
Town couldn’t get into the same rhythm that so overwhelmed Dartford on Saturday, with passes going astray and bobbles not going in the hosts’ favour on the uneven surface.
Of the two sides, Wrexham had made more changes from their game at the weekend, but looked the more cohesive unit; they’d already caused Town more problems than in the entire 90 minutes at the Racecourse earlier in the season.
Further shots at goal by Rob Evans and Jennings brought a roar of encouragement from a worried home crowd.
The decibel levels grew when play was called back for a Wrexham free-kick just as Muldoon was about to race clear on goal, prompting an outcry from the Halifax supporters.
It was now Town in the ascendancy as Marc Roberts’ cross-cum-shot was parried by Andy Coughlin, with only the diligence of a Wrexham defender directing the ball away from Hattersley for a corner.
The fact that referee Steve Rushton initially signalled for a goal-kick was an indictment of his performance thus far.
Just as Town looked to be getting a stranglehold on the contest, Wrexham produced a superb opener when captain Ashton finished off a flowing move when he tapped in Keiron Morris’ cross from the right flank.
Town looked like they could do with half-time and the chance to start again, with some niggly fouls and poor ball control letting the hosts down.
Morris fired just over the angle of post and bar moments before the break, while Jennings had a decent shout for a penalty turned down after a clumsy-looking challenge by Kevin Roberts.
There was just time to squeeze in a Muldoon shot which Coughlin parried away before the half-time whistle.
The contrast between the opening 45 minutes against Dartford had been stark, with Town struggling to develop sustained spell of pressure.
The usually mercurial Danny Schofield seemed bogged down by the patchy surface and, along with fellow midfielders Matt Pearson and debutant David Mellor, was harassed by a hard-working Wrexham side.
In Halifax’s defence, Wrexham were clearly a better side than Dartford and had offered much more of an attacking threat.
When Town do produce an underwhelming first-half display, Neil Aspin isn’t usually slow in changing things round, and this was no exception.
New boys Mellor and Muldoon were replaced by Scott Boden and Lois Maynard, who made his first appearance in nearly a month.
Town improved after the interval, seeing more of the ball, but had still to really fire into life by the hour mark.
Scott McManus and Kevin Roberts began to push up from full-back, while Maynard added some dynamism into midfield.
But it still wasn’t Town at their flowing best, which is what was needed to get through the Wrexham defence, which now sat deeper, with the visitors happy to soak up pressure.
And happy to waste time, with Ashton booked for kicking the ball away in the 65th minute.
Shortly afterwards, a group of Town fans helped Mr Rushton by counting out the seconds it took for Coughlin to take a free-kick.
The time-wasting continued, with Jennings practically growing a beard by the time he walked off to be replaced by Wes York.
Ashton’s eventful night then saw him head Schofield’s free-kick against his own bar, but chances were still few and far between despite Town’s territorial dominance.
While Wrexham weren’t pinned back in their own box, they were taking a age to take a throw-in at the other end.
To add injury to insult, Town finished with 10 men after Steve Williams hobbled off in the last minute.
The paltry four minutes of stoppage time barely covered the time it took for one of Coughlin’s goal kicks, but Wrexham saw it out untroubled.
Halifax: Glennon, K Roberts, M Roberts, Williams, McManus, Schofield, Mellor (Maynard 46), Pearson, Peniket (Jackson 69), Hattersley, Muldoon (Boden 46). Subs not used: Senior, Bolton.
Shots on target: 2
Shots off target: 7
Wrexham: Coughlin, Ashton, Waterfall, Smith, Morris (York 75), Tomassen, Harris, Evans, Clarke, Bishop, Jennings (Carrington 88). Subs not used: Hudson, Moult, Keates.
Scorer: Ashton (36)
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 4
Town man of the match: Matt Pearson