Hyder Jawad on the blossoming of romance before reality rears its ugly head...
The only surprise is that we are surprised. Nuneaton Borough 1, Middlesbrough 1 . . . and Nuneaton were unfortunate not to win. Why did we doubt this club? Why did we doubt the FA Cup to produce the unexpected?
Nuneaton go into the hat for the fourth round of the FA Cup, along with Tamworth, whose goalless draw away to Stoke City was no less impressive and no less significant. And what of Burton Albion, who drew 0-0 at home to Manchester United?
At the other end of the scale, Birmingham City did their reputation no good with a goalless draw away to Torquay United, who are one of the worst professional teams in England.
Aston Villa moved into the fourth round thanks to a deflected goal by Gareth Barry while also in the draw are West Bromwich Albion (1-1 draw against Reading), Wolverhampton Wanderers (1-0 win against Plymouth Argyle), Walsall (1-1 draw away to Barnsley), and Coventry City (1-0 win away to Brighton & Hove Albion).
Burton's goalless draw came against a weakened United team but this should not diminish from what was a fine display by the Conference team. Indeed, Burton had chances to have won the match. United hardly dominated to the extent expected from a Premiership team.
Burton manager Nigel Clough said: "My only disappointment when the draw was made is that we weren't away.
"It would have been great for the lads to experience Old Trafford and I'm thrilled for their hard work that they can have it now."
So Burton got what they wanted: a replay at Old Trafford, and yet more opportunities to chase the fast buck. They even had banners proclaiming "we're going to Old Trafford!" further supporting pre-weekend claims - from within the club - that the best possible result would be a draw (big-money replay), not a win (footballing immortality).
Nuneaton started the day 100 places below Middlesbrough in the football pyramid yet they were in such control that the whole affair became surreal.
It was in keeping with the nature of cup football that the team who were outplayed - Middlesbrough - took the lead and nearly won.
Gaizka Mendieta, the Spain international midfield player, scored in the 15th minute but Nuneaton had several chances before Gez Murphy tucked home a last-minute penalty after Gareth Southgate's handball.
Roger Ashby, the Nuneaton manager, seemed to be overcome with emotion, and it was the only appropriate response.
"It has just been magnificent," he said. "A magnificent performance and a magnificent day. It feels like we won the game, to be honest, and the supporters who are here will remember this for the rest of their lives.
"We more than matched them and we caused them a lot of problems all the time going forward."
Ashby declared that the financial rewards of earning a replay at the Riverside Stadium meant as much to the club as the place in the fourth-round draw. Nuneaton have high hopes of being promoted to the Conference.
"We have had a long run in the FA Cup this season," Ashby said. "We will go into double figures when we play at the Riverside. That replay in the FA Cup will be a saviour for us financially. We are a non-League club and our finances are limited."
For Tamworth, the hero was a goalkeeper. But Scott Bevan's job security is not great, despite a fine performance in ensuring the goalless draw at Stoke.
He started his career with Southampton, was paid off by Milton Keynes Dons at the end of last week and joined Tamworth, where he was on loan, on non-contract terms.
He is 26.
Mark Cooper's side, who have already taken the scalps of Bournemouth and Hartlepool, stifled Stoke for long periods but when the part-time Conference strugglers were opened up Bevan saved them.
He remains hopeful of finding a League club but if there are no offers he will have to follow his team-mates and join the ranks of builders, hairdressers and DJs in the Tamworth changing-room.
Not that Cooper is completely happy. He cannot understand why Tamworth have received such little television coverage. He wants that to change.
"It's the biggest result in the club's history," Cooper said, "takes some doing believe me. We might get the cameras now. Anyone who has listened to me over that last week would know how bitter I am that we haven't had a television game having beaten two League One teams away from home.
"I think if anyone deserves a television game it's Tamworth Football Club, because it will be a fantastic game at the Lamb. An old fashioned non-League ground against a big, big club. That's about as romantic as it comes. But I'm not holding my breath for the television cameras."
Torquay's status in Coca-Cola League Two is precarious. Yet they enjoyed a relatively easy afternoon against Birmingham.
Birmingham might be struggling in the Premiership but they have enough class to defeat the likes of Torquay, all of which makes this goalless draw rather difficult to analyse.
Andy Marriott, the Torquay goalkeeper, who played for Birmingham briefly in 2003, was surprised at how little work he had to do. His Birmingham counterpart, Maik Taylor, was much the busier goalkeeper.
Marriott said: "Maik Taylor certainly had more to do than I did and made four or five excellent saves. He kept them in the Cup. I was expecting a busier afternoon and we all thought we would come under more severe pressure than we actually did."
Gareth Barry's 61st-minute winner, which was deflected, gave Aston Villa only their second FA Cup victory since they lost the 2000 final to Chelsea.
But David O'Leary, the Villa manager, was just as pleased with the knowledge that his squad did not suffer any significant injury problems. Villa are down to 16 fit men and cannot afford any more players to declare themselves unfit.
Albion performed badly in their 1-1 draw at home to Reading but led in the 82nd minute through a penalty by Zolton Gera. But Kevin Doyle tucked away another spot kick after Martin Albrechtsen had handled.
Leon Clarke's first goal since August clinched Wolves' place in the fourth round with a 1-0 win over Plymouth, with whom they drew 1-1 the previous week. Clarke struck in the 26th minute to seal the win for Wolves in an otherwise tepid cup tie.
But Glenn Hoddle, the Wolves manager, hailed the role of Paul Ince, the captain, and an FA Cup winner with Manchester United in 1994, who made his first start since tearing a thigh muscle in August.
Hoddle said: "There are quite a few clubs who would love to swap places with us so I am delighted with the result and pleased with the performance. It was good to see Paul Ince back and his presence and quality were there for all to see."
Gary McSheffrey scored the only goal of Coventry City's tie away to Brighton as the 1987 winners moved comfortably into the fourth round.
McSheffrey, only five years old when Coventry lifted the famous trophy at Wembley 18 years ago, settled a scrappy contest with an angled drive from close range in the 50th minute.
Paul Merson, the Walsall manager, was full of praise for his players after a 1-1 draw by Barnsley.
Paul Hayes grabbed the 77th-minute equaliser for Barnsley, three minutes after Kevin James, on loan with Walsall, had scored.
"We were absolutely outstanding and worked our socks off," Merson said. "We deserved a draw at least. Their keeper made one or two great saves. I am critical of the team when they are bad but I was proud of them here. We caused them problems straight away."
Nine Midland teams will go into the draw for the fourth round. The dreams have already begun and, unless you support Burton, reality has not yet reared its ugly head.