Doncaster Rovers emerged with plenty of credit despite bowing out of the FA Cup at the hands of Premier League Stoke City.
Jonathan Walters’ sublime second half strike settled a cracking cup tie after Nathan Tyson had cancelled out Peter Crouch’s opener.
But in front of a crowd of 13,299 – the biggest attendance at the Keepmoat Stadium since April 2011 - Rovers showed tremendous character and carved out plenty of opportunities against their lofty and classy opponents.
Stoke were hanging on at the death as Rovers missed two glorious chances to equalise in stoppage time through Tyson and then Andy Butler.
But despite their shortcomings in front of goal, boss Darren Ferguson will take great heart from the performance as Rovers now turn their attention to continuing their ascent up League One.
James Coppinger was a notable absentee on the Rovers teamsheet, with Harry Middleton promoted from the bench in his place.
Meanwhile, Mark Hughes made nine changes to the Stoke side that lost to Liverpool in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final on Tuesday - resting England goalkeeper Jack Butland and his first choice front four.
A superb atmosphere inside the Keepmoat provided the backdrop to a fast and frenetic start, one that saw Rovers settle fairly well and also go close when Andy Williams’ header from Cedric Evina’s cross had to be saved by Jakob Haugaard.
VIDEO: "It was a proper cup tie." Darren Ferguson reacts to defeat for his side http://www.doncasterfreepress.co.uk/sport/doncaster-rovers/rovers-news/video-ferguson-s-pride-in-defeat-to-stoke-for-rovers-1-7665733
It did not take long for the visitors to flex their muscles, however, and after a good spell of possession they went ahead on 15 minutes. Joselu got the better of Aaron-Taylor-Sinclair down the right and his cross was expertly diverted home by Crouch.
All of a sudden Rovers were hanging on in there slightly as the Premier League side probed and continued to break at pace.
But within ten minutes Doncaster were level, following a sensational burst forward from halfway from centre back Luke McCullough.
The defender saw a gap and kept on going, breaking into the box and squaring it for Tyson. Tyson’s initial shot was superbly saved by Haugaard but the striker reacted quickest to prod home and send the Rovers fans wild.
Thorsten Stuckmann had to get down to keep out a shot on the turn from Mame Diouf but 1-1 was a fair scoreline at the break.
Conor Grant went close five minutes after the re-start when his low shot from just outside the box, following a good passing move, went narrowly wide. And moments later Rovers appealed in vain for a penalty when Craig Alcock tumbled in the box.
Crouch provided a contender for the miss of the season when he tapped over the bar from six yards out with the goal at his mercy, following a save from Stuckmann to keep out Diouf’s downward header.
But the visitors re-took the lead within 60 seconds, just short of the hour mark, when Walters picked up possession 25 yards out and unleashed an unstoppable drive into the top corner.
Rovers again responded well to going behind and came within inches of an equaliser when a half cleared corner reached Alcock who smashed a shot just wide.
Walters then came close to putting the game out of reach when he skied a chance from close range, and Marco van Ginkel hit one narrowly wide from distance.
VIDEO: Stoke boss Mark Hughes praises Rovers' effort http://www.doncasterfreepress.co.uk/sport/doncaster-rovers/rovers-news/video-hughes-praises-doncaster-rovers-effort-in-fa-cup-1-7665724
Rovers continued to show fantastic spirit and determination and, following a double change, went agonisingly close again when substitute Richard Chaplow’s cross was headed onto the bar by Butler, while fellow sub Curtis Main tested Haugaard’s handling from distance.
The home side continued to push and missed two glorious chances in stoppage time.
First Tyson missed from close range following a knock down from makeshift centre forward Gary MacKenzie, before Butler somehow headed over from six yards after a great cross from Main.
Rovers: Stuckmann, Alcock, McCullough, Butler, Taylor-Sinclair (Main 77), Evina, Keegan (Chaplow 77), Middleton (MacKenzie 89), Grant, Tyson, Williams. Subs not used: Marosi, Whitehouse, Lund, Davies.
Stoke: Haugaard, Bardsley (Johnson 61), Shawcross, Wollscheid, Wilson, v.Ginkel, Adam (Sidwell 87), Walters, Joselu, Diouf, Crouch (Whelan 66). Subs not used: Butland, Odemwingie, Teixeira, Shenton.
Attendance: 13, 299