STEWART Donald has poured in four years of blood, sweat and tears – plus a cool £3 million – to deliver a momentous occasion like yesterday's to Eastleigh.

But as the tension cranked up towards the end of the Spitfires’ first ever venture into the FA Cup third round, the wealthy yet refreshingly down-to-earth Oxfordshire businessman could bear the suspense no longer.

With his beloved Eastleigh leading by a 51st-minute own goal from hapless Bolton Wanderers defender Dorian Dervite, the chairman/owner left his seat in the Mackoy Community Stand, wandered round the ground and took temporary shelter in the clubhouse.

And when Donald did venture out again, he stood shoulder to shoulder with Eastleigh fans packed behind Ross Flitney’s goal - just in time to see Bolton skipper Darren Pratley break home hearts with a late equaliser from a corner.

It means the Spitfires  – the last remaining non-League flag-bearers – will have a joint share of ball number 22 when the fourth round draw is made live on BBC1’s The One Show at around 7.15pm tomorrow evening (Monday).

And there will be yet more nail-biting moments for Donald to endure next week when the Spitfires travel to Bolton’s Macron Stadium for the replay.

“With about 20-25 minutes to go I couldn’t watch anymore,” he confessed.

“I disappeared into the clubhouse and literally came out just as they scored. I couldn’t watch the last 20 minutes, which is shocking really because you spend all this time, effort and money to get games like this and then struggle to watch them!

“We were almost there, but the story continues.

“We’re in the draw and that will keep us in the spotlight a bit longer and, for me, that’s what it’s all about. It keeps people talking about Eastleigh and we’ve still got a chance, so that’s great.

“In one sense you’re happy because it could all have ended today, but in another sense it’s tinged with a bit of disappointment because we were so close.

“But we’re going to a ground of a standard we would rarely ever go to and maybe there’s a chance this time, dare I say it, that we might be on TV, you never know.

 “The tie’s not dead. We’re strong away from home. It’ll be on a better surface so the boys can play a bit of football. It’s not over.”

The TV stations who, in their wisdom, decided to overlook yesterday’s tie for live coverage, must be kicking themselves.

The biggest game in Eastleigh’s history had everything, even a one-man pitch invasion thrown in for good measure.

It was a proper old-fashioned cup tie played in monsoon conditions, making exhilarating viewing for a club record crowd of 5,025.

 There was tense drama even before a ball had been kicked, waiting and wondering if referee Iain Williamson would give the game the go-ahead on a sodden Silverlake surface later described by Wanderers boss Neil Lennon as “one of the worst pitches I’ve ever seen.”

In fairness to the former Celtic man, he had pushed as hard as Eastleigh to get the game played. The last thing the cash-strapped Wanderers needed was a wasted trek down south.

But six minutes into the second half, Lennon must have questioned his own sanity when Frenchman Dervite stretched to reach Jai Reason’s teasing right-wing cross only to steer the ball into his own net.

It took the best of three top-drawer saves from Eastleigh goalkeeper Ross Flitney to protect that lead, springing to his left to palm away a goalbound effort from Wanderers dangerman Pratley – no mean feat in such a boggy goalmouth.

 Flitney’s heroics would have been worthy of the man-of-the-match award, but Eastleigh’s entire team were outstanding and the official sponsors’ vote went to young centre-back Will Evans who, along with skipper Paul Reid, was a tower of strength at the heart of defence.

Despite Bolton’s introduction of former Newcastle United goal ace Shola Ameobi, it was Chris Todd’s men who had the next big chance when new boy Kaid Mohamed – on as a 35th-minute substitute for hamstring victim Yemi Odubade – squared for Andy Drury whose shot held up in the mud, giving David Wheater the time to hack it off the line.

Four-time Cup winners Bolton had never really got to grips with the conditions in the first half as National League underdogs Eastleigh looked to exploit their fragile confidence.

 But the Trotters gave a far better account of themselves after the break, perhaps explaining why Donald couldn’t bear to watch any longer.

 How cruel then that when he did reappear he was subjected to the sight of Pratley shoving his way into space in a crowded six-yard box to equalise from an 87th-minute corner supplied by former Salisbury City winger Liam Feeney.

“I thought we’d pretty much done it but then I joined the masses behind the goal and saw Bolton pop the ball into the net,” said Donald.

“It was quite deflating but at least it was a goal to equalise and not to lose it.

 “We live to fight another day.”

Eastleigh: Ross Flitney, Joe Partington, Dan Harding, Josh Payne, Will Evans, Paul Reid, Ben Strevens, Andy Drury, James Constable, Jai Reason, Yemi Odubade (Kaid Mohamed, 35 ) Subs: Lewis Noice, Jamie Turley, Ross Lafayette, Jack Midson, Lee Cook, Kaid Mohamed.

Bolton Wanderers: Ben Amos, Dean Moxey, Dorian Dervite, Josh Vela (Shola Ameobi, 70), Liam Feeney, Gary Madine (Liam Trotter, 85), Neil Danns (Kaiyne Woolery, 85), Darren Pratley, Wellington Silva, David Wheater, Rob Holding. Subs: Paul Rachubka, Jay Spearing, Liam Trotter, Jose Manuel Casado, Stephen Dobbie, Shola Ameobi, Kaiyne Wollery.

Attendance: 5,025

Referee: Iain Williamson (Berkshire)