SUBSTITUTE Matthew Beadle scored a goal against his former club to earn the striker’s current one, 1874 Northwich, a victory on their FA Cup debut.
Nothing else followed the script on an uncomfortable afternoon for Ian Street’s men.
Less a romantic tale, this was a gritty drama.
The ending, a fifth successive defeat of the season for Maine Road, had been made less predictable by the visitors taking the lead.
After Northwich defender Craig Farnworth had been sent off with 20 minutes left, by which time David Short had restored parity for the home team with a stunning free kick, it was still in doubt.
But Beadle, sent on to bring coherence to a scruffy performance, was decisive.
When Matthew Ward’s corner, with nine minutes left, dropped via defender into his path, the front man redirected the ball past goalkeeper Ryan Livesey with an instinctive prod of his right boot.
As a reward 1874 will host Prescot Cables, from the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League’s second tier, at the next stage.
It had seemed an unlikely prospect during a disjointed opening.
Maine Road, shorn this season of the players principally responsible for securing a top four finish in the Premier Division for the past two years, prompted mistakes with their pressing.
They were grateful for help from the match officials, who failed to spot Connor Hughes starting his run towards goal from an offside position before steering a smart finish beyond Matt Conkie after 19 minutes.
1874’s custodian, making a milestone 50th start, then pushed over Jack Langford’s dipping drive.
Conkie turned away Hughes’ arced free kick shortly afterwards, then blocked another Langford attempt after Farnworth and Mike Aston had dithered to clear when in possession.
It took until a minute before the break, following Rick Bailey’s burst, for Short to extend Livesey at his near post with a powerful strike.
The introduction of Matthew Woolley, for injured Danny Thomas, led to the hosts assuming more control in the middle of the pitch after half time.
Short hauled his side level when he arrowed a free kick into the bottom corner on 59 minutes, injecting overdue urgency into 1874’s display.
The introduction of Beadle helped too, though Farnworth’s dismissal for hauling back Josh Harper after the striker had pounced on the defender’s careless control added further difficulty to the hosts’ task.
Encouragingly for Street, it stirred them.
Beadle’s nudge tipped the contest 1874’s way, and Short almost made it 3-1 when he flashed an attempt narrowly wide in the closing stages.
“I’m relieved,” admitted the Northwich manager at full time.
“They say you have to win ugly when things aren’t going your way. Well, that was horrendous to watch at times.
“I think we had more quality, but it was a forgettable display littered with errors.”
1874 (4-4-2) Conkie (GK), Mitchell, Farnworth, Aston, Duckworth, Connor, Thomas (Woolley 46), Bailey (Abdullah 75), Ward, Short, Hurst (Beadle 64) Subs not used Fossdyke (GK), Lunn Goals Short 59, Beadle 81 Booked Thomas (foul), Ward (dissent) Sent off Farnworth (foul)
Maine Road (4-4-2) Livesey (GK), Thorpe, Mason, Flynn, Socha, Roe, Langford, Hulme (Williams 80), Breslin, Hughes, Harper (McLennan 85) Subs not used Doherty, Johnson, Peters Goal Hughes 19 Booked Thorpe (foul)
Referee Dominic McDonald