A PROUD Tom Austin felt a neutral observer would have been hard-pressed to see who was the higher-placed club from his FC Clacton team’s FA Cup clash with Witham Town.

The Seasiders bowed out of the competition after being beaten 3-2 after extra-time in a preliminary round replay with a result that Austin found tough to take at the final whistle.

BetVictor Isthmian League division north side Witham made hard work of progressing into the first qualifying round as they eventually managed to get past Clacton at the second time of asking.

Clacton had been by far the better side when the two met for the first time at the Austin Arena, but Witham ground out a 1-1 draw on that occasion to take it into a replay.

And Witham, who play their league football a level higher than Clacton, found it far from easy when they met again at the Simarco Stadium.

Despite having a man advantage from the 17th minute onwards after Ollie Lamb’s red card, Witham twice fell behind.

Austin felt the sending off was harsh on his centre-half, but goals from Jake Clowsley and Jordan Lartey looked set to have won them the tie and it required a last-minute equalising goal from Witham to take it into extra-time.

However, a 93rd minute strike by George Bugg finally broke Clacton’s brave resolve for a 3-2 victory that set up a trip to Stamford for Witham in the first qualifying round on Saturday.

For Austin, though, the feeling of disappointment at the result was tempered by the pride he felt for the way his players performed over the two games.

He said: “I’m frustrated but I couldn’t be any prouder of the lads.

“Anyone watching that game, with the football we played - even with ten men - was superb.

“We started really well and scored after eight minutes with a lovely goal and the second one was very well taken as well.

“Then in the second half, we had the better chances than Witham if I’m being honest.

“I feel like Witham have got out of jail again.

“Maybe they wouldn’t say that but anyone watching from Clacton should have been proud of the lads because they put in some graft there.

“For me, it was us who looked like the step four side, not them.

“That’s what we can take out of this fixture as we’ve shown that we can hold our own in the league above.”

Rather than the FA Cup trip to Stamford that he felt his team deserved, though, Austin will instead be taking Clacton to Haverhill Rovers in the Thurlow Nunn League premier division on Saturday.

He added: “I think I’ll have to pick them up but I know they’ll realise they’ve gone toe-to-toe with a team from step four and they should have probably won over the two legs.

“We deserved it more and played the better football than Witham.

“They’ll need picking up but we can’t dwell on it.

“We still have the Vase and we’re still a work in progress.

“I’m gutted but I’m very proud of the lads and there’s always next year.”