GARY Rowett breathed a huge sigh of relief at the Pirelli Stadium last night after Burton Albion narrowly avoided an FA Cup giant-killing.
Albion trailed 3-2 to Altrincham going into added time but were rescued when Calvin Zola headed his seventh goal of the season in the 93rd minute.
Rowett said “The important thing is that we live to fight another day and I’ll put my hat on us being slightly tougher and slightly harder to play against in the replay.”
The sides meet again at Moss Lane a week tomorrow battling for the prize of a second round trip to League One side Crewe Alexandra.
Zola’s goal was the climax to topsy-turvy game in which Albion scored two own goals and both sides missed a penalty.
The Blue Square Bet North could afford Damian Reeves’ miss from the penalty spot as they swept into a two-goal half-time lead through Carl Rodgers and a Nathan Stanton own goal.
The Brewers drew level as goals from Zander Diamond and Jacques Maghoma sandwiched a Robbie Weir spot kick howler.
Damien McCrory put through his own net to hand the initiative back to the non-leaguers in the 85th minute – only for Zola to keep alive his hopes of a return to his former club Crewe.
Rowett said: “I think we’ve seen that the cup is still a magical competition because this was a game that had a little bit of everything.
“I thought that Altrincham were absolutely fantastic.
“That’s what this competition is about sometimes - the lower league team rising to the occasion- and I take my hat off to them because in spells of the game they did really, really well.
“To say we were poor first half is taking it away from them because I thought they were terrific.
“We needed to play with real tempo from the start and do things quickly and aggressively, but I felt it was Altrincham who did everything we asked our lads to do.
“We were too far off them, we were too slow to react to the ball and we were too slow moving the ball – and that gave us a problem.
“We were poor defensively, first half in particular, and you could argue they might have gone in with a few more goals.
“At one point when their third went in off Damo (McCrory) after Robbie Weir had missed the penalty, I thought it was going to be their day and not ours.
“At 2-0 down we kept going and we kept trying to do the right things.
“We got some impetus in their half and moved the ball quicker in the second half, which I thought changed the game in our favour.
“We went out and played with a bit of the pride we’ve shown all season and one or two individuals did a bit more for us.
“I felt at two-all there was only going to be one winner, but all of sudden they went straight back down the other end and nicked one.
“We’ve got a couple of ex-Crewe lads (Zola and Bell) in our side and they’re really excited about the chance to go back to their old club.
“Hopefully, that will be a big incentive in the replay, but we know it will be just as tough as it was today.”
Alty boss Lee Sinnott insisted his men should be proud rather than disappointed by the outcome.
“It’s human nature to be disappointed at a goal when you’re winning deep into injury time,” said the Robins boss.
“But what I’ve said to the players is to think about how they played and the fact that they’ve taken part in a wonderful game of football.
“We played some wonderful football in the first half and caused Burton a lot of problems.
“I’m extremely proud of the team for the way they went around the job and how they’ve got so close to a place in the next round.
“I think we would have taken the replay if it had been offered us beforehand and we’ve still got that to look forward to.”