South Shields 2-1 Runcorn Linnets: Stoppage time winner seals FA Vase win
Robert Briggs struck a dramatic winner three minutes into stoppage time as South Shields sealed a pulsating FA Vase victory over Runcorn Linnets at Mariners Park on Saturday.
The game looked set for extra-time after Gavin Cogdon had cancelled out a first half own goal from Julio Arca.
However, after a strong second half performance, Shields were rewarded with the winner as Briggs pounced on a loose ball before stroking it home, resulting in the majority of another 1,000+ Mariners Park crowd erupting with joy.
Seven minutes into stoppage time, though, goalkeeper Liam Connell was called on to make an outstanding one-handed save to seal Shields’ passage into round two, the draw for which will take place on Monday.
The Linnets, flying high in the North West Counties League Premier Division, arrived in South Tyneside full of confidence, having won 10 of their previous 12 games.
They did themselves and their vocal travelling support proud at Mariners Park as they more than played their part in an entertaining contest which could have gone either way.
The visitors created the first real opportunities of the game, with Ronnie McCarthy hitting an effort over from distance before Mark Houghton had a decent opportunity in the area, only for Dillon Morse to deny him with a block.
Shields had some half-chances of their own, but Connell had to save from Kyle Hamid in the 21st minute.
The longer the first half went on, the more control the Mariners seemed to have of the game as they started to press their opponents back.
After one period of possession, a low David Foley shot was held by goalkeeper Thomas Hunt, who also did brilliantly to tip over a Briggs header from an Andrew Stephenson corner.
Briggs later whistled a piledriver not far wide from 25 yards after fine work on the left by Cogdon, and Arca curled in a free-kick from the right of the box which begged a touch, but Jon Shaw just could not stretch enough to turn it home, and the ball bounced just wide.
The home crowd was stunned five minutes before half-time when the Linnets took the lead.
Shields gave the ball away at the back and the visitors pounced on the mistake, with the ball lofted over to the right, from which a low cross was turned into his own net by Arca.
There were positives to take from the first half for the Mariners, and less than five minutes after the break, they were back on level terms.
Craig Baxter chipped in a cross from the right which Foley headed down, and Cogdon nicked the ball away from the goalkeeper before finishing into an empty net for his 13th goal of the season.
Within five minutes of that, Arca pounced on a loose ball and played a superb pass through towards Cogdon, who was sent sprawling following a challenge from the goalkeeper.
Despite huge appeals for a penalty, it was not given, but it proved to be a costly incident for Shields, with Cogdon forced off with a groin injury which arose from it.
The Linnets remained dangerous, and Connell made a superb one-handed save as he tipped wide an effort from 20 yards by Paul Shanley.
At the other end, a Briggs free-kick was headed on and then struck into the side netting by Shaw.
An even better chance came Shields’ way 10 minutes before the end as they attacked well down the right, and Foley’s chipped cross fell perfectly for Stephenson in the centre, but he could only head well over.
The Mariners built momentum again in the closing stages as they pushed for a winner, but Briggs could only head over from a corner, and a low Wayne Phillips shot was comfortably saved.
Stephenson conjured a good chance for substitute Carl Finnigan with a first-time cross from outside the box on the left, but Hunt did well to keep out his header.
Shields almost fell behind in a pivotal moment in the 89th minute, with the Linnets creating a glorious opportunity at the back post, and a deft effort from Shanley bounced off the crossbar.
Then, three minutes into stoppage time and with the game seemingly heading for extra-time, the breakthrough finally arrived to spark pandemonium at Mariners Park.
A Phillips corner from the right was headed goalwards by Briggs and blocked by a defender, but the ball fell back the way of the midfielder, who stabbed it into the bottom corner.
Shields players and fans alike celebrated in style, but all concerned knew there was still a job to do.
Four more minutes were yet to be played, and the Linnets were not ready to give up on their FA Vase dream.
They pushed hugely for an equaliser, and had a number of set-pieces in dangerous areas.
The visitors so nearly levelled in the seventh minute of stoppage time, with a ball hooked into the six-yard box for Hamid, whose effort was destined to find the net before Connell clawed it over the bar with a stunning one-handed save.
Shields then saw the game out to claim what was a sixth consecutive victory in all competitions, and they were given a superb reception from the supporters as they returned to the dressing room.
They will hope to maintain their winning streak on Wednesday, when they travel to Norton and Stockton Ancients in the Durham Challenge Cup.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Arca, Briggs, Morse, Shaw, Phillips, Scroggins (c) (David Carson 64), Cogdon (Finnigan 59), Stephenson, Foley. Subs not used: Carmichael, Danny Carson, Riding.
Goals: Cogdon (50), Briggs (90+3).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.