South Shields enjoyed a dream first trip to Wembley as they defeated Cleethorpes Town 4-0 to win the FA Vase – and seal a historic quadruple.
Roared on by more than 13,000 Mariners supporters on a sunny London day, the Mariners dominated their opponents to provide memories all of those involved with the club will never forget.
They were always in control, but had to wait until late in the first half before Carl Finnigan slotted away a penalty to break the deadlock.
The second goal was also long in coming, but once Dillon Morse’s header found its way over the line with 10 minutes left, the party could get in full flow.
David Foley added the gloss to the scoreline in the latter stages with two strikes as the Mariners ended an almost perfect season in fitting style.
Club captain Leepaul Scroggins and team captain Julio Arca then followed their team-mates up the famous Wembley steps before holding the trophy aloft as the Mariners won the competition for the first time.
With the Northern League Division One title, Northern League Cup and Durham Challenge Cup already in the bag, the Mariners were confident of completing a near-perfect campaign with yet another trophy.
There were few signs of any real Wembley nerves as they set about their business early and took control of possession.
Finnigan – who was handed a start in the attacking positions alongside Foley and Gavin Cogdon – went agonisingly close in the opening exchanges when he diverted an Arca free-kick towards goal, only to see the ball bounce just past the post.
He was a constant threat to the Cleethorpes defence, and went close again when he got in behind, but saw his effort kept out by goalkeeper Liam Higton.
Shields were unable to make their possession count, and almost paid from that on a rare Clee breakaway on 25 minutes.
Brody Robertson got in on the inside-right of the box and sent a low effort across goal which Liam Connell did well to palm behind.
That gave Cleethorpes some encouragement, but apart from looking dangerous from set-pieces, they failed to seriously test the Shields defence again until the second half.
It was the Mariners who managed to get on top, playing their way into a number of promising positions without being able to find the killer touch.
Finnigan had a shot deflected wide and later had a penalty appeal turned down, while Cogdon was a constant menace as he drifted out to wide positions and brought the ball inside.
In one of those situations, he stepped inside and drew a foul from his defender, with the referee showing no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
In Finnigan, Shields had a player with ice-cool nerves ready to become the club’s first goalscorer in London since the great Len Smith netted against Queens Park Rangers in 1970. His 31st goal of the season was calmly registered as he sent Higton the wrong way with a low effort.
The goal was just two minutes before half-time, and in stoppage time, the Mariners so nearly struck again when Cogdon drove in from the left before hitting a low shot which was tipped onto the post by Higton. The ball bounced back into the danger zone, where Cogdon headed it wide.
The main disappointment at the break for Shields was that they did not hold a more comfortable lead, but they almost put that right within four minutes of the restart.
Foley showed his quality as he beat his man 25 yards from goal before unleashing a stunning strike which Higton brilliantly tipped onto the bar.
Higton also denied Cogdon soon after, before Cleethorpes’ best chance of the game arrived.
A through ball played Robertson in on goal and he looked odds-on to find the net, but Alex Nicholson burst across the area and threw his body in the way of the ball to make a tremendous reception and maintain Shields’ lead.
Things became slightly more nervous as the second half progressed, with the Mariners unable to maintain possession in the manner they would have liked.
However, they never appeared in any serious danger of conceding, and Shields’ superior fitness began to show in the latter stages.
Cogdon had a golden chance to kill the game off when he received the ball on the inside-left of the box, but his low drive was beaten away by Higton.
Eventually, though, Shields could relax with 10 minutes left when a free-kick from substitute Robert Briggs found its way to Morse at the back post, and he forced the ball beyond the line with his head before sprinting towards a jubilant Mariners faithful.
The noise was cranked up as the reality of Shields’ imminent achievement began to sink in, and the players responded as they set about making it even more of an afternoon to remember.
Another substitute, Michael Richardson, received the ball in the centre of the park and then played it beyond the Clee defence for Foley, who sprinted in and coolly finished to score his 34th goal of the season.
It was fitting that Foley would get in on the act, and he was not finished yet.
He scored arguably the goal of the day with a minute remaining when he hammered the ball into the bottom corner from 20 yards before a joyous celebration with team-mates and staff.
The Vase was in the bag and with it, arguably the biggest win in the club’s history.
The scenes which followed will live long in the memory as the Mariners enjoyed their day in the sun on the biggest stage of all.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Nicholson, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Stephenson (Briggs 56), Phillips (Smith 83), Cogdon, Finnigan (Richardson 70), Foley. Subs not used: Storey, Holden.
Goals: Finnigan (pen 43), Morse (80), Foley (85, 89).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. MAIN IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields qualified for the final of the Buildbase FA Vase with a resounding 4-0 win over Coleshill Town at a packed Mariners Park.
Shields turned in an outstanding display on arguably the biggest day in the club’s recent history.
Julio Arca settled any nerves with an unstoppable 20 yard drive on the stroke of half-time, which put the Mariners 3-1 up on aggregate.
They then motored on in the second half, with Gavin Cogdon making the tie more comfortable before late goals from Carl Finnigan and David Foley added gloss to the scoreline.
The match was played in front of a Mariners Park record crowd of 3,464, and the Shields fans now have a Wembley trip to look forward to on May 21, when they will take on Cleethorpes Town.
Shields reached the final on a raucous afternoon at Mariners Park which is destined to go down in club folklore.
Billed by many ahead of the game as the biggest day in the Mariners’ history, this was high stakes indeed.
But Shields never looked likely to succumb to the pressure, and spurred on by an incredible support, they set about extending the 2-1 lead they brought back from the first leg.
Cogdon was a constant danger to the visiting defence, even if at times he may have felt he could have done better with opportunities in the first half.
Early on, Robert Briggs presented him with a decent chance in the area, but the striker was unable to divert the ball towards goal.
Andrew Stephenson – deployed behind the two strikers, with Michael Richardson unavailable due to illness – struck the woodwork in the 11th minute as he beat his man on the left of the box and cracked an effort which took a deflection before hitting the bar.
Stephenson had an even better chance soon after when a Briggs free-kick dropped at his feet, but an excellent block from Danny Tymon kept him off the scoresheet.
The first goal in the game was sure to be crucial, and only on rare occasions did the spirited Coleshill look likely to grab it.
One of those came when a ball over the top almost put Jordan Nadat through on goal, but Darren Lough covered excellently and got it clear.
At the other end, Cogdon missed his kick after a cut-back from Foley, while a low shot from Foley was well held by goalkeeper Paul Hathaway.
Shields were indebted to Liam Connell in the first leg after he made a number of fine stops to ensure they came back to South Tyneside with an advantage.
He made another vital stop eight minutes before half-time in the second leg.
Dean Rathbone struck a powerful effort 12 yards out, and Connell made a superb one-handed save to force the ball over the crossbar.
Later in the half, Craig Milligan sent another shot wide for the visitors as they enjoyed their best spell of the match.
Had the game been goalless at the break, despite Shields’ strong performance, nerves would have surely been jangling going into a 45-minute period in which all possibilities were well and truly open.
The Mariners needed a spark. A moment. A goal.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Cogdon got in down the right and when he pulled the ball back, it took a few bounces before hurtling towards the onrushing Arca. He met it with as sweet a connection as he could have hoped for, and it went sailing past Hathaway and into the net to send Mariners Park – and Arca – wild.
The breakthrough had arrived and Wembley was suddenly far more than just a dream. It was tantalisingly close.
Coleshill now required two goals to force extra-time, and so the whole context of the tie shifted slightly again.
It was Shields who started the second half on the front foot, and there they stayed, with Connell not called into any further serious action.
He was able to stand back and admire the football played in front of him as the Mariners showed their quality.
Stephenson went close with two efforts and Arca was denied by the foot of Hathaway after wriggling through on the inside-right of the area.
The goal to surely clinch Shields’ Wembley place came in the 62nd minute.
Briggs lifted the ball over the top to Cogdon, and as he raced through on goal, he waited for Hathaway to commit and then gloriously dinked it over him when he fell to the floor as he notched his 23rd goal of the season.
Shields continued to keep the ball for fun, all the while staying tight defensively and alert to any danger which came their way.
There were few more clear-cut chances until the closing stages, with first Jon Shaw denied when his header from deep was claimed by Hathaway.
Hathaway also made a good stop from substitute Finnigan with two minutes left after Briggs had beaten the defence with an excellent pass.
Finnigan was not kept off the scoresheet for long, though. After an excellent passing move which involved most members of the team, Alex Nicholson drove through the middle and then clipped a low ball into the box which Finnigan forced home, via a touch from Hathaway.
Within moments of the restart, Foley was sprinting through on the left, and he unleashed a fantastic left-footed shot across Hathaway and into the bottom corner to add another cherry on the top of an increasingly tasty cake for the Mariners.
The final whistle went and scenes of pure joy could be seen throughout Mariners Park, apart from those connected with Coleshill, who had done themselves proud over the two legs.
Young Shields supporters spilled onto the pitch to celebrate with their heroes, many of whom were visibly emotional.
One of those was Arca, the former Premier League star who is now well and truly an adopted Mariner.
He left the pitch to a rapturous reception and with tears streaming down his face. Just like the rest of the Shields squad, he had realised a dream.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Briggs, Phillips (Smith 77), Cogdon (Finnigan 63), Stephenson (Nicholson 73), Foley. Subs not used: Parkin, Storey.
Goals: Arca (45), Cogdon (62), Finnigan (90), Foley (90+1).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.