South Shields 2-0 FC Halifax Town
South Shields qualified for the first round of the Emirates FA Cup for the first time since the club reformed in 1974 on a stirring afternoon against FC Halifax Town at 1st Cloud Arena.
The National League side were put to the sword by a sharp Mariners outfit which clinched a 2-0 win thanks to a goal in each half.
Darius Osei headed them into the lead seven minutes before half-time and Robert Briggs’ impressive solo effort in the second half booked Shields a place in Monday’s draw alongside the likes of Sunderland, Hull City, Wigan Athletic and Portsmouth.
The historic victory was earned in front of a buoyant crowd of 300, perhaps less than 10% of the attendance which would have been expected had restrictions not been in place.
But those supporters who were inside the ground certainly made their presence felt as they roared their team on fervently and more than played their part on one of the most significant days in the club’s recent history.
Joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton handed a debut to former Newcastle United defender Jamie Sterry and he slotted in seamlessly to a three-man defence which also included Dillon Morse and Blair Adams, while Osei was reintroduced to the starting line-up after coming on as a substitute in the midweek draw with Morpeth Town.
Shields started brightly and sensed some early joy as Osei linked up with Briggs and the midfielder looked set to pull the trigger on the edge of the box, only for an excellent tackle by Niall Maher to snuff out the opportunity.
Briggs – released into a more attacking role in this game – was a persistent threat to the Shaymen and almost fired his side into the lead 11 minutes in as Osei twisted and turned on the right before picking out Shields’ captain with a sublime cross to the back post, only for Maher again to prove his nemesis by blocking his volley on the goal-line.
There was another sight of goal for Briggs soon after as Osei again found him just outside the area after shrugging off his man, but this time the number eight’s left-foot strike was deflected by Nathan Clarke for a corner.
The Mariners thought they had scored the goal their enterprising play deserved midway through the first half when Osei drove through the middle and showed good composure to lay the ball off to Briggs, whose controlled cross was turned in by Jason Gilchrist from close range. The striker, though, had strayed beyond the final defender and so the assistant referee’s flag denied him the opener.
Undeterred by that blow, the Mariners continued to probe for a breakthrough and went desperately close to it again in the 32nd minute.
Adams played in Alex Kempster down the left and his cross was met by Gilchrist at the near post, only for Maher to again get in the way with a block which had more than a hint of handball about it. Briggs looked set to ram home the rebound but Danny Williams got there first and Halifax remained unbreached.
After scoreless and frustrating encounters with Matlock Town and Morpeth in their previous two outings, Shields must have been beginning to wonder whether this might be another one of those afternoons.
However, all such thoughts were banished in emphatic fashion seven minutes before the break.
Some fast-paced play saw Gilchrist released down the right and although his cross was over-hit, Kempster was able to retrieve it on the left flank and deliver a menacing ball which Osei met with a stunning header into the top corner as he deservedly notched his first goal at 1st Cloud Arena.
There was no let-up after that from the Mariners and they almost scored goal number two minutes later as Gilchrist’s cross from the right found Kempster at the back post and his sliding effort was sliced over his own bar by Neill Byrne, whose heart must have been in his mouth as the ball fizzed over the crossbar.
Halifax threatened an equaliser in the closing moments of the first half, with Maher drawing Myles Boney into a save with a strike from outside the box before the same player headed against the post from the resulting corner.
It was to be expected that Pete Wild’s side would produce a reaction in the second half and so it proved, particularly in the early stages of it.
They had a chance within a minute of the restart when a scooped ball into the box by Jeff King found Gold Omotayo and his half-volley went over the bar.
There was another opportunity as Kieran Green’s cross was powerfully headed wide by Williams while Boney kept out a long range effort from Martin Woods as Shields continued to weather the storm.
The hosts got through that difficult period and almost found their reward for it when Hunter’s low ball into the box was curled just wide by Osei but with 19 minutes left, Shields did get their nerve-settler.
So many players had come to the fore in this match for the Mariners but none more so than Briggs, who truly deserved his moment of magic which took his side within touching distance of the first round.
He showed real intelligence to beat his man on the right flank and then ghosted inside, beating a defender before picking out the bottom corner with a magnificently placed left-foot effort from the edge of the area.
Halifax were running out of time to force their way back into the tie and attempted to pressurise their hosts with a number of deliveries from wide areas, but Boney and his defence were equal to them as Shields comfortably saw out the final minutes to complete a historic victory.
They can now look forward to the first round draw ahead of Tuesday’s league fixture at home to FC United of Manchester.
South Shields: Boney, Sterry (Baxter 89), Adams, Ross, Morse, Turnbull, Hunter, Briggs (c), Gilchrist (Hindle 67), Osei (Verstraaten 90+2), Kempster. Subs not used: Coombe, Agnew, Gillies, McCamley.
Goals: Osei (38), Briggs (71).
Image: Kev Wilson.