Warren Byrne scored a dramatic late winner as South Shields marched on with a superb 2-1 FA Vase win at Ebac Northern League Division One side Bishop Auckland.
The Mariners were made to work all the way against a Bishops side which was reduced to 10 men during the first half, and they secured a remarkable 14th consecutive victory thanks to goals from Byrne and Ben Riding.
A tremendous crowd of 844 – well over half of which appeared to be Shields supporters – watched on as the teams battled for supremacy at Heritage Park.
The first half was a somewhat quiet affair in front of goal, but it was anything but quiet off the pitch, where the travelling fans made their presence felt and backed their team to the hilt.
Bishops created an early opportunity which Stuart Thompson chipped over from just outside the box, while Shields goalkeeper Scott Pocklington – formerly of the Two Blues – produced a superb save with his right foot to deny Andrew Johnson, who shot across goal after being found by David Palmer.
The first clear-cut opportunity for the Mariners came when a ball over the top played in Adam Sakr on the inside-right of the box, but home goalkeeper Mark Bell beat it away to keep the scores level.
Shields took a grip of the game from there, and a long throw from Riding almost fell to Daryll Hall before the hosts scrambled it clear.
Riding was denied just after the half-hour when Hall’s header across goal was touched by a defender just before he could divert it in, and a crucial moment in the game arrived soon after.
With 36 minutes on the clock, Wayne Phillips nicked the ball in midfield and went on a driving run through the centre before playing Byrne in on goal. Thomas Bott tried to save the hosts with a sliding tackle, but brought down Byrne and was given his marching orders for a professional foul.
Shields were unable to take advantage before half-time, and after the break it remained difficult to break Bishops down.
Michael Turner tried his luck from distance and bounced a shot wide, while at the other end, Pocklington had to tip over a dangerous cross from the left and Thompson curled an effort past the post.
Shields’ patience was beginning to be tested, but on 62 minutes, they broke the deadlock.
Smith received the ball just inside the Bishops half and floated a ball into the box which was met by Riding, and his header from 10 yards looped up and over Bell and into the opposite corner.
Supporters rushed to the front of the stand to celebrate with Riding and his jubilant team-mates, but the job was not yet done for the Mariners.
Substitute David Foley almost put a nail in the hosts’ coffin with their next attack, though, as he cut inside from the right before drilling a shot not far wide.
Bishops fired a warning to their visitors when the ball was played through to Johnson and he was just beaten to it by Pocklington, who took a kick in the process.
Adam Nicholls also twice fired wide as the Two Blues searched for a leveller, and when Sean Tarling went down in the penalty area with 11 minutes left, they were handed a penalty. Johnson stepped up and drilled it low into the bottom-right corner to draw Bishops back on level terms.
That set up the possibility of extra-time, but just as they had done at Chester-le-Street in midweek in the Durham Challenge Cup, Shields came up with an answer.
Julio Arca had an effort deflected over, and the resulting corner from the former Sunderland and Middlesbrough midfielder dropped for Leepaul Scroggins. He held off the challenge of his defender and played the ball to Turner, whose delicate pass across goal was gratefully received by Byrne and dispatched into the net to spark more scenes of huge celebration.
This time, there was no way back for Bishops, who instead spent much of the closing stages penned inside their own half.
Foley could have made it 3-1 when he latched onto a long pass by Pocklington, but Bell kept out his effort across goal, and Arca had a low free-kick saved.
Shields’ players were given a heroes’ reception as they returned to the dressing rooms after the final whistle following a 14th consecutive victory.
They march on in the FA Vase, with the draw for the next round set to take place on Monday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Galpin, Turner, Hall, Riding, Smith, Sakr (Foley 56), Scroggins (c), Byrne (Briggs 88), Arca, Phillips. Subs not used: Young, Bulford, Ramsey.
Goals: Riding (62), Byrne (85).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.