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.