IT is tough to imagine a tougher draw for Knutsford FC in the Cheshire Amateur Cup at the weekend.

They welcome holders Mersey Royal, who lead the West Cheshire League after a fine start to the season, to Manchester Road for a game in which they were considerable underdogs.

While that was a tag they belied for much of the game – even taking a 3-1 lead at one stage – they eventually subsided to a 5-3 defeat.

Reds made the worst possible start to the game, falling behind in the ninth minute in controversial circumstances with the visitors’ opening goal allowed to stand despite a strong hint of offside.

Just a minute later, however, they were level as Nathan Bibby converted the rebound after the keeper had spilled Charlie Roddick’s effort.

They were perhaps fortunate not to concede a penalty shortly afterwards but took the lead on 17 minutes.

Roddick was once again involved, with his shot saved by the Mersey Royal keeper only for Tom Hawley to bundle home the rebound.

While they were under heavy pressure, the hosts were responding well and were even able to add to their lead when Graeme Brotherton stooped to head home Max Kennedy’s corner and double his side’s advantage.

An upset was on the cards but just before the break, there was a tale of two penalties – one given and one waved away.

Knutsford felt they had a strong case for a spot-kick turned down for handball, with the visitors going up the other end and having one controversially awarded, which they converted the halve the deficit.

Amid a quieter second half, Mersey Royal equalised on the hour mark after Knutsford conceded possession in a dangerous area to allow a far-post tap-in.

The visitors were having most of the play but both sides were having chances, with the Mersey Royal goalkeeper making a big save before Sam Summerbee spurned a good opportunity.

It looked as though Reds were primed to take the tie to penalties, but Mersey Royal took the lead with eight minutes to go to break their hearts.

They followed it up with a fifth goal three minutes later to secure their progress and end Knutsford’s involvement in the competition for this season.

Focus now reverts to the CFL League One campaign and a trip to Avon Villa on Saturday.

Team: Smith, Stewart (Daverin), Cavanagh, Morgan, Brotherton, Law, Kennedy, Roddick, Bibby, Hawley, Spencer (Summerbee)