Cheltenham Town's fine run in this year's FA Youth Cup came to an agonising end after a magnificent effort against Arsenal this evening.
The young Robins took the Premier League giants all the way in this third round tie, drawing 0-0 over 120 minutes but eventually losing by the finest margins in the penalty shoot-out.
Aaron Basford and Aaron Evans-Harriott scored the first two efforts but Arsenal made no mistake from the spot, scoring all four to take advantage of the misses by Charlie Stanton and Callum Ebanks to progress and face Southampton in round four.
Conditions at the ground were atrocious but it was Pete Hayne's side who adapted better to the driving wind and rain to create the more promising chances on the night. They had beaten Eastleigh and Portsmouth on their way to hosting the Gunners but they couldn't find a way through in normal time.
Arsenal had the strong winds on their backs in the opening 45 minutes and it was no surprise they had the better of the first period.
The north Londoners had fashioned a handful of half-decent chances before forcing Freddie Lapworth into the first meaningful save of the game with 21 minutes played. Daniel Oyegoke raced into the box and tried one from a tight angle, but the Cheltenham number one was equal to it. Ten minutes later Sam Greenwood swapped passes with Ben Cottrell but the striker pulled his 18-yard effort the wrong side of the left upright.
The Robins though were much more of a threat in the second period, making a positive start through Basford who blasted an a long ranger within seconds of the restart but he was denied by Hubert Graczyk's flying fingertip stop. The Pole was alert enough to push away Tom Chamberlain's resulting corner kick, a trick he repeated only 10 minutes later. Toby Lawrence was also presented with a great chance to open the scoring but he could get enough on Evans-Harriott's ball from the right to test the goalkeeper. Lapworth was largely untroubled for the second half, although there was late save to prevent Alfie Matthews pinching the win three minutes from time.
Arsenal went so close to the first goal three minutes into extra time but Alex Kirk's towering header dropped wide of the target. Lapworth and then substitute Issac Lawrence came to Cheltenham's rescue with some desperate defending to prevent a late Gunners goal.
At the other end, Basford drew a save and then Evans-Harriott had perhaps his side's best chance of the night, running onto Toby Lawrence's ball before unleashing a great strike from an angle. Gracyzk though did just enough to push it away from goal.
The young Robins went so close to snatching the win in the final moment after another Chamberlain corner caused problems for Graczyk, this time is was hacked away off the line leaving the game to be decided from the penalty spot.
CHELTENHAM TOWN UNDER-18s: Lapworth; Hunt, Horton, T Lawrence, Jakeways (Lawrence 34); Basford, Chamberlain (c), Aldridge (Woodall 46), Evans-Harriott; Ebanks, Stanton. Subs not used: Bedford, Skurek, Stevens, Paterson (Gk), Atwell.
ARSENAL UNDER-18s: Graczyk; Oyegoke, Monlouis, Kirk (Foran 109), Ogungbo; Alebiosu (Plange 93), Cottrell (c), Patino, Butler-Oyedeji (Dennis 76); Greenwood, Matthews. Subs not used: Mitchell (Gk), Cîrjan, Flores.
REFEREE: L Benn