Crawley Town captain Pablo Mills claimed his side were disappointed not to come away with an FA Cup replay against Manchester United but he stressed the non-leaguers has enjoyed a "first-class'' experience at Old Trafford nonetheless.
Wes Brown's goal condemned the Blue Square Premier big-spenders to a 1-0 defeat against Premier League leaders in the fifth round, though Crawley's Richard Brodie nearly earned his side a shock draw, striking the crossbar in the closing stages.
"We're disappointed to be fair, we probably could have made the keeper work more," Mills told ITV1. "(But) if we're going to go out, it's probably the best place. It's been first class being here all week, it's an experience we'll never forget.''
Crawley striker Matt Tubbs concurred with his skipper's assessment of the day and insisted the lesser-known Red Devils did themselves proud.
"I think 1-0 is a credit to us," Tubbs said. "We worked hard but in the first half we probably gave them a little too much respect and they're always going to punish you.''
On Brodie's miss, Tubbs added: "It was unlucky, on another day they drop in for the equaliser.''
Sir Alex Ferguson sent Crawley manager Steve Evans back to Sussex with a bottle of vintage wine and some happy memories - but the immediate taste of an FA Cup defeat at Old Trafford was bitter for the non-leaguers. Even Ferguson conceded Crawley deserved a draw for their efforts after an excellent second-half display.
Evans said Brodie's chance left him wondering what might have been.
"It looked like a big chance,'' said Evans. "Some of the boys said they thought it was in and I think a few of the United players felt the same way. We go home disappointed tonight. We really thought we could win.''
Evans will now try and raise his team for a somewhat less glamorous encounter with another north-west side, Southport, on Tuesday as Crawley return to their quest to get promotion into the Football League. He will do so a wiser man after spending half an hour in the company of fellow Glaswegian Ferguson.
"He gave me a proper Glasgow welcome,'' reported Evans. "They way he and his club have treated us makes me proud to be from the same city. He gave me a bottle of wine to share with my wife and overall, it was a fantastic experience. It was an education how to treat people. It is why they are the best club in the world.''
Crawley were so nearly still clinging to the dream of becoming the first non-league team to reach the quarter-finals. As it was, stand-in skipper Wes Brown sent United through with a first-half header, his first goal in two-and-a-half years and only his fifth in a United career that extends to over 350 games.
United dominated the opening period without creating any other decent opportunities, save for one Fabio effort just after Brown's goal. But as the second half progressed, so their performance got worse. Bebe and Gabriel Obertan were among the poorest, offering Crawley an opportunity they came so close to grabbing.
"They deserved a draw given their second-half performance,'' admitted Ferguson. "There is no doubt a few players did not do themselves justice. I had no complaints in the first half, I thought we did okay - but we weren't at the races in the second. We were second to every ball. It was disappointing. We had some players who maybe don't understand what FA Cup football is like. For them, that is the biggest lesson.''
That United finished with half-time substitute Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez in wide positions, desperately trying to plug gaps Obertan and Bebe had been unable to, just about summed up their performance.
Rooney's temper frayed to the extent he was booked for a cynical hack at Kyle McFadzean.
"He is a fantastic footballer,'' said Evans. "He played one crossfield pass that I didn't even see, and I was stood on the touchline. Perhaps he got a bit frustrated at times with a lack of service. He is a caring young man but he instantly made Manchester United better. That is why he (Ferguson) brought him on.''