Gavin Cogdon struck a dramatic stoppage time winner as South Shields pulled off one of the greatest victories of their modern history against York City on Saturday.
The Mariners got themselves into a commanding position in the Emirates FA Cup third qualifying round tie with a fantastic first half display, with a Carl Finnigan penalty and well-taken goal from Julio Arca putting them 2-0 up.
However, their National League North opponents fought back in the closing stages of the second half, scoring twice in two minutes to draw back on level terms.
Shields were not to be denied, though, and Cogdon pounced from close range a minute into stoppage time to make a sell-out Mariners Park crowd erupt.
The sensational win saw the Mariners claim a place in the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup for the first time since reforming in 1974. They will find out their opponents when the draw is made at 1pm on Monday.
Facing National League North opposition for the second round in a row, Shields knew they would be up against it against York, who were in the Football League just two seasons ago.
They needed to rise to the occasion, and they certainly did.
It almost went pear-shaped within the first minute, though, when a Jon Shaw clearance was charged down by Amari Morgan-Smith. The ball broke for the York forward but Shields goalkeeper Jack Norton closed him down and made a good low save.
The Mariners grew into it and began to get on top before York were punished for a poor clearance of their own. Jamie Holmes closed down goalkeeper Joe Worsnop and intercepted his kick before trying to take it around him, only for the York man to bring him down. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot, and Worsnop was handed a yellow card rather than his marching orders.
Finnigan has a perfect record from the spot for the Mariners, and made no mistake once again as he sent Worsnop the wrong way and rattled his penalty home to put the hosts in front.
York were struggling to make any real impact in the game and the longer the half went on, the more Shields impressed. Arca, Barrie Smith and Robert Briggs controlled possession, with Cogdon, Finnigan and Holmes offering a constant threat in attacking areas, and full-backs Anthony Callaghan and Craig Baxter always giving options on the flanks.
Callaghan went on two fine runs midway through the first half, firing wide after the first of them before finding Holmes with the second, only for the forward’s touch to send the ball away from him.
The Mariners scored a deserved second goal 10 minutes before half-time, and it was a picture-book one. Arca collected the ball from a Callaghan throw-in and played it into the feet of Briggs, who waited for his captain to run into space in the box before delivering an inch-perfect pass into his path. Arca made no mistake and slotted it into the bottom corner. It was an excellently worked goal, and Arca ensured that arguably one of the passes of the season got the finish it deserved.
Shields’ confidence was clear for all to see and they almost made it three when Cogdon drove inside from the left, and his low shot was kicked away from the bottom corner by Worsnop.
Cogdon had a better chance to get on the scoresheet three minutes before the break when Worsnop punched a Callaghan cross into his path, but his effort comfortably cleared the crossbar.
The Mariners suffered a blow shortly before half-time when Holmes was withdrawn with a knock. However, just eight minutes into the second half, his replacement Michael Richardson made his mark on the game.
He sent a superb ball beyond the away defence for Cogdon to run onto, and he beat his man in the box before being denied by a fine low save from Worsnop. Shields continued to impress, and arguably deserved to be more than two ahead.
York started to gain a foothold as the second half progressed. Manager Gary Mills – who was sacked after the game – made three substitutions at half-time and the newcomers made a positive impression.
Their main threat continued to be veteran striker Jon Parkin, but Shields dealt with him well and restricted him mainly to efforts from distance, with one of them going well wide in the early stages of the second period.
York had a strong appeal for a penalty soon after, but the referee waved play on. Shields countered well and Finnigan laid the ball off to Richardson, whose shot was well blocked.
With 20 minutes left, the Minstermen started to get on top as they enjoyed their best spell of the game.
They went the closest they had came to scoring their first when a low cross cannoned against a Shields defender and nestled in the side netting.
The away team knew that one goal could set nerves jangling, and they got it with 14 minutes remaining. A flick in the penalty area fell the way of captain Sean Newton, who fired low and hard, and saw his shot squirm under Norton.
It was a lifeline for York and one they took advantage of.
Less than two minutes later, they were level. A cross was swung in from the right and Parkin used his power to disrupt Norton as he tried to claim the ball. It bounced down and, despite Shields appeals for a foul, Parkin finished well and the goal was allowed to stand.
Mariners Park was stunned and it appeared the Mariners’ players were on their knees. After such an incredible effort to get two goals ahead, suddenly York were level, and in the mood to ensure there would be no midweek replay.
They continued to advance, and neutrals could be forgiven for believing a winning goal from the visitors was inevitable. They would go agonisingly close twice to snatching the tie.
The first opportunity came when the impressive substitute Louis Almond brought the ball onto his right foot just outside the box on the left and curled a superb effort which went just past the post.
York got in behind with three minutes remaining when a long throw was not cleared by Shields, and Newton’s effort which flashed across the face of goal just evaded a touch.
A goal would have turned joy to despair for the Mariners, who looked tired after their tremendous efforts.
However, they summoned the energy to go on an attack as the game ticked into stoppage time, and were rewarded when good movement from Cogdon earned them a corner.
Those who had written Shields off after York’s equaliser are unlikely to have seen much of the Mariners over the last year. They have character in abundance and have shown it time and again.
This was another test of it, but boy did they pass it.
Arca’s corner was cleared back to him, and some neat footwork from the midfielder saw the Mariners win another corner. This time, they made it count.
The corner from Arca went into a splendid area in the six-yard box, and when Briggs diverted it back across goal, there was Cogdon to head home from just a yard out as he created pandemonium among the Shields fans with a goal which was surely to prove the winner.
There was a roar the like of which Mariners Park has surely never heard as a pulsating cup tie swung back in the home side’s favour.
The York supporters, who had been through a roller-coaster of emotions themselves, were suddenly silenced as the sell-out home crowd sang their hearts out.
Their team was not yet over the line, though, with work still to be done.
The goal was timed a minute into stoppage time, but proceedings were delayed as Smith received treatment for an injury and was replaced by Andrew Stephenson, while Darren Lough was also brought on for Callaghan.
There was a fear around the ground that the Minstermen might get one last chance to claim a draw, but Shields dealt with their threat well, and the sole chance fell the way of Parkin, who sent a half volley well wide from distance, much to the delight of the crowd.
The final whistle was soon blown and the roar which greeted it again shook the ground to its foundations.
It was a stunning, dramatic, emotional and historic victory for the Mariners, and one to rival any of the club’s remarkable achievements of the last two years.
The FA Cup dream continued as the club went further in the competition than they ever have.
What a day, what a moment, what a team.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Norton, Baxter, Callaghan (Lough 90+3), Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Briggs, Smith (Stephenson 90+3), Cogdon, Finnigan, Holmes (Richardson 45). Subs not used: Connell, Storey, Pattison, Sullivan.
Goals: Finnigan (pen 9), Arca (35), Cogdon (90+1).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.