Warrington Town came from behind to end South Shields’ hopes of a fourth consecutive promotion in front of a bumper crowd at Mariners Park.
A stunning strike from long range by Josh Gillies had put the Mariners into the driving seat heading into the half-time break.
But Warrington improved after the interval and equalised with a goal by substitute Dylan Vassallo midway through the second half.
Another substitute, Josh Amis, broke Shields hearts as he netted what proved to be the winner with three minutes left as the Yellows progressed to next week’s super play-off final.
Shields had suffered a double-blow in the lead-up to the game, with Blair Adams and Gavin Cogdon both ruled out with the injuries they picked up in Tuesday’s play-off semi-final win over Buxton.
Both sides appeared nervous in the early stages but it was Warrington who had the first chances, with Jack Dunn turning over a low cross from Jack Mackreth and Tony Gray forcing a save out of Liam Connell.
Connell also did well to hold onto a 25 yard free-kick by Dunn before the Mariners took control, enjoying good possession and territory.
They fired their first warnings with a series of deliveries into the box which were scrambled clear, and they went close when Luke Daly’s drive from outside the area was deflected not far wide.
Warrington did possess a threat at the other end, with Vassallo – introduced as an early substitute – drawing a smart stop from Connell after a cross from the right took a dangerous bounce in the area.
Another opportunity came and went for the visitors as a teasing ball across the box from the left was almost converted by Mackreth, who was just unable to stretch enough.
The match burst into life on the half hour mark as Gillies opened the scoring in spectacular style.
After receiving the ball from Darren Lough, he brought it more central before unleashing a superb whipped effort which flew into the top corner to send much of the crowd of almost 2,400 into raptures.
Shields held the lead into half-time and would have felt confident about their chances at that stage.
Warrington came out of the traps well in the second half, though, and went close to equalising within five minutes of the restart when Mackreth got in behind on the right of the area and hit a shot from a tight angle which Connell did well to save with his feet.
The Mariners responded well to that scare and went agonisingly close to doubling their advantage as Carl Finnigan was played in on the right of the box and denied by goalkeeper Antony McMillan before the loose ball dropped to substitute Nathan Lowe, whose effort was hacked off the line.
Shields enjoyed a good spell but were pegged back in the 67th minute as a cross from the right was headed on before being sliced into the roof of the net by Vassallo from 12 yards.
Warrington then took control and began to put their hosts under pressure in search of a winner.
Robbie Evans forced a good save out of Connell and Mark Roberts headed wide before the fatal blow was delivered with three minutes left as a free-kick from the right was flicked on and fell to the feet of Amis, who finished well on the turn.
Much of the crowd thought Shields had scored a dramatic equaliser three minutes into stoppage time, but substitute David Foley’s effort rippled the side netting as Warrington survived to claim their place in the super play-off final.
The Mariners are now left with a summer to reflect on what might have been in their first season in the Evo-Stik Premier Division, when they were so close to securing what would have been a remarkable fourth promotion in a row.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough (Foley 88), Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Daly, Briggs, Finnigan (Harmison 83), Mason (Lowe 52), Gillies. Subs not used: Brown, Callaghan.
Goal: Gillies (30).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.