A late Will McCamley penalty steered South Shields Academy into their first national cup final as they secured a hard-fought win over Maidstone United at Mariners Park.
The young Mariners enjoyed the majority of the possession and chances in the National League Alliance Under-19 League Cup semi-final, but had to wait until the 87th minute to make their breakthrough.
McCamley was coolness personified from the spot as Shields set up a final with Basford United.
The game was played in a strong wind and Shields had it with them in the first half.
They created numerous opportunities but were unable to find a way past Maidstone goalkeeper Ethan Collen.
Collen denied Ethan Biwer early on and Shields went close again when a McCamley cross held in the air and just cleared the crossbar.
The young Mariners’ best chance of the first half fell to Max Cowburn after some superb work from David Allasan on the left of the box, but after the ball was fired across the area, Cowburn was unable to convert from close range.
Maidstone created an opportunity of their own as a through ball played in Ollie Aston, but he fired over.
That was a rare opportunity for the visitors, and Shields will have been disappointed not to go in ahead at half-time as McCamley hit one just wide, Allasan had an effort deflected past the post and Cowburn blasted a shot not far wide from distance.
Shields were playing against the wind in the second half and took some time to adapt.
Eventually, they took control again and almost took the lead when McCamley brilliantly set up Callum Guy, but he struck the post.
McCamley also went close as he fired into the side netting from a Cowburn corner, before Shields brought on Sam Hodgson and Dom Minchella as they shook things up at the top of the pitch.
They almost broke the deadlock with 14 minutes left when Guy worked some space for himself before hitting a low effort which Collen got down well to tip wide.
Direct play by Minchella down the right looked like it might reap dividends when he pulled the ball across the area, but some brave defending denied Hodgson a tap-in.
Shields were almost made to pay for their missed chances as Matt Weller aimed for goal from the edge of the box, but the ball bounced just wide as the hosts breathed a sigh of relief.
The Mariners had to show patience for their breakthrough, and it finally arrived with three minutes left.
Minchella was fouled in the box and McCamley made no mistake from the spot as he sent his penalty down the middle.
Shields saw the game out well to secure their place in the final.
SSFC Academy team to play Maidstone United: Armstrong, Yembe, Lockey, Thompson, Patterson, Bexton (c), McCamley, Biwer, Cowburn (Hodgson 69), Guy (Black 90+1), Allasan (Minchella 65). Subs not used: Errington, Croft.
Goal: McCamley (pen 87).
South Shields closed the gap at the top of the Evo-Stik Premier Division to four points with a hard-fought win over Marine on Tuesday.
Shields had to battle their way to victory on a bitterly cold, blustery evening at Mariners Park.
First half strikes from Lee Mason and Robert Briggs ultimately proved to be enough, despite substitute Nathan Brown pulling a goal back for Marine in the second half.
Both sides ended the game with 10 men after Shields’ Ben Harmison and Marine’s Will Dunne were sent off following an off-the-ball incident.
Shields were looking to end a rare run of three home matches without a win as they aimed to take advantage of their game in hand on top two Farsley Celtic and Warrington Town.
They were almost caught out after just four minutes, though, when a free-kick from deep by Charley Edge was caught by the wind before Liam Connell was forced to tip the ball onto his crossbar.
The Mariners gradually took control and opened the scoring in the seventh minute.
Mason and Blair Adams exchanged passes on the left before Mason impressively worked the ball onto his left foot and buried it into the bottom corner.
That was the cue for a flurry of Shields attacks as they set about making their lead more comfortable.
Phil Turnbull went close to making it two when he met a Briggs short corner and saw an effort deflected not far wide.
Marine goalkeeper Joe Hilton kept out Harmison’s header from the resulting corner and also later denied Adams after he fired goalwards from long range.
The second goal arrived in the 33rd minute as Turnbull found Briggs on the right of the area and a deflection took his shot out of the reach of Hilton as it nestled in the opposite corner.
A thunderbolt from Mason narrowly cleared the crossbar as the game ticked towards half-time, while Briggs was denied his second by a good stop from Hilton.
Chances were harder to come by in the second half as the conditions took a firm grip of the match, but Shields were fired a warning when Connell was called upon to save from James Murray.
The Shields goalkeeper was beaten soon after as Brown let fly from distance and halved the deficit.
That blow may have led to some nerves for the promotion-chasing hosts, but the best chances of the latter stages fell to them.
The closest the Mariners came to extending their advantage was when a Briggs free-kick was nodded across the area by Dillon Morse to Harmison, whose header was well saved by Hilton.
Marine almost got back on level terms when Brown hit a rasping effort not far wide, before Harmison and Dunne were both sent off for an incident near the corner flag.
Shields saw the game out to claim maximum points and they will hope to build on the result when they travel to Workington on Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Foley (Bell 69), Briggs, Harmison, Daly, Mason (Lough 84). Subs not used: Mouanda, Lowe, Gillies.
Goals: Mason (7), Briggs (33).
Sent off: Harmison (89).