AFC Totton goalkeeper Gareth Barfoot is wondering just what he has to do to get himself into the FA Cup first round proper.
Four times the 30-year-old has banged on the door with Totton and Eastleigh without ever getting over the threshold.
As bad luck would have it, he was a Spitfires player last season when Totton enjoyed a headline-making run into the second round proper before bowing out in a live televised tie against Bristol Rovers.
He rejoined the Testwood Stadium club during the summer, hoping the Cup magic would rub off on the Stags again this year – and, to an extent, it did.
But, yet again, Barfoot reached a dead end in Saturday’s fourth qualifying round as Totton lost a five-goal thriller against Southern Premier rivals Cambridge City.
While the ’keeper could blame poor some decision- making in front of him for presenting the visitors with a second-minute lead, he felt he was at fault for letting in the Adrian Cambridge strike that put the Lilywhites 2-1 up after Mike Gosney had headed the Stags back on terms.
Things got worse for Totton just after the hour when City made it 3-1 and, although Dave Allen set up a grandstand finish with 20 minutes remaining, the overwhelming feeling in the home camp was that they were instigators of their own downfall.
“We deserved to win on effort because we didn’t stop going – but not with the mistakes we made,” admitted Hedge End-based Barfoot.
“I was disappointed with the second goal. It bounced just as I got my hand to it and went in right next to the post.
“When Gos got it back to 1-1, I thought we’d go on and win, but that second goal killed us.
“We know we can score, but we’ve got to cut out the sloppy mistakes.
“I feel like a bit of Jonah in the fourth qualifying round – I can’t get past it.
“When I was at Totton before we lost at Grays and Bath City, and I was on the bench when Eastleigh lost to Woking.”
“I’m 31 next month, so time’s running out – although goalkeepers do peak late!”
Stags boss Steve Riley also professed himself “disappointed” with the manner in which Totton conceded.
Having taken over from Stuart Ritchie during the summer, the former Bashley manager knew he would be hard-pressed to match the Cup achievements of his predecessor in his first season in charge.
But after wins over Swindon Supermarine, Truro and Merthyr, he was beginning to believe anything was possible.
In the end, however, Riley had to concede that Cambridge – who landed a home tie against MK Dons in yesterday’s first round draw - had out-defended his side.
“A draw may have been fairer, but we didn’t deserve to win,” he said. “I can’t fault our lads for effort, but Cambridge dealt with balls into the box better than we did and that was the difference.”
Totton’s defensive flaws were evident as early as the second minute when their failure to clear the ball cost them a corner, which Dave Theobald headed in.
Gosney replied on 23 minutes, meeting Dave Allen’s right-wing cross with a stooping far-post header, and the Stags looked hungry for more.
But when a weak clearance fell City skipper Cambridge’s way, he punished Totton with a 36th-minute strike from the edge of the box. And, but for a great saving tackle by outstanding midfielder James Coutts, the Stags could have been caught again on the break while their captain Carl Pettefer was down with a head injury.
City’s third goal – a sweet 62nd-minute David Prada strike – again set alarm bells ringing in the home defence and Theobald headed another corner just over.
Allen gave the Stags hope, volleying home on 70 minutes, and Totton dominated a tense finale.
Even Barfoot pushed up in search of a leveller in the dying seconds, but it was not to be.
“We threw the kitchen sink at them, and I’d like to thank the crowd for getting behind us like they did,” said Riley. “It’s disappointing, but you’ve got to give Cambridge credit. I wish them all the best.”