South Shields’ challenge in the Buildbase FA Trophy ended in the second qualifying round as Stafford Rangers came from behind to claim a 3-1 victory.
The Mariners took the lead early on thanks to an excellently-taken goal from Robert Briggs, but Massiah McDonald equalised for the hosts within a minute, and scored twice more in the second half to complete his hat-trick and win the tie.
There was a poignant atmosphere following the tragic death of 10-year-old Shields fan Jak Fada five days before the game.
A minute’s applause in memory of the youngster was excellently received by all supporters in the ground.
Shields – backed by a tremendous away following – started well at Marston Road, and after Gavin Cogdon slapped a shot just over early on, Briggs gave them the lead.
It was a superb finish by the midfielder as he dinked the ball over the goalkeeper from the right of the box to score his fifth goal in three games.
The Mariners were unable to stay in front for long, though, and McDonald levelled less than 60 seconds later as he swept home a low cross from the left.
Shields shaded the rest of the first half, but there were opportunities at both ends.
Connell did well to save from Mathew Bailey, while the Mariners went close to reclaiming the lead when Michael Richardson’s effort was parried and the ball was diverted to Barrie Smith, who was also denied.
Dan Westwood shot inches wide for Stafford as he got on the end of a throw-in, but Shields had the best of the rest of the half, and were unlucky not to score.
A tremendous volley by Briggs just cleared the crossbar after a flick-on from Carl Finnigan, and there was also a chance for Cogdon as he played his way into a good shooting position before firing just wide.
The second half was open, and McDonald should have scored his second in the 51st minute, only to head over with the goal gaping as he met a cross from the right with his head.
Finnigan had a good opportunity at the other end as he pounced on a loose backpass, but his effort was also off target.
Stafford began to get on top the longer the second half went on, and Connell made a tremendous point-blank stop from substitute Samuel Griffiths to keep the scores level.
It felt like a goal was coming, and it arrived when McDonald cut inside from the left before hammering the ball into the bottom corner.
Richard Batchelor almost put the game to bed, but fired just over, while Shields’ best chance to equalise was created by Julio Arca as he jinked his way into a shooting position before being denied by Bradley Caswell.
The hosts hit the Mariners on the break to seal the win, with McDonald peeling off his marker to turn the ball home at the back post and spark joyous celebrations.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough (Nicholson 79), Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Smith (Storey 65), Briggs, Cogdon, Finnigan, Richardson (Holmes 59). Subs not used: Norton, Stephenson.
Goal: Briggs (7).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.