South Shields qualified for the final of the Buildbase FA Vase with a resounding 4-0 win over Coleshill Town at a packed Mariners Park.
Shields turned in an outstanding display on arguably the biggest day in the club’s recent history.
Julio Arca settled any nerves with an unstoppable 20 yard drive on the stroke of half-time, which put the Mariners 3-1 up on aggregate.
They then motored on in the second half, with Gavin Cogdon making the tie more comfortable before late goals from Carl Finnigan and David Foley added gloss to the scoreline.
The match was played in front of a Mariners Park record crowd of 3,464, and the Shields fans now have a Wembley trip to look forward to on May 21, when they will take on Cleethorpes Town.
Shields reached the final on a raucous afternoon at Mariners Park which is destined to go down in club folklore.
Billed by many ahead of the game as the biggest day in the Mariners’ history, this was high stakes indeed.
But Shields never looked likely to succumb to the pressure, and spurred on by an incredible support, they set about extending the 2-1 lead they brought back from the first leg.
Cogdon was a constant danger to the visiting defence, even if at times he may have felt he could have done better with opportunities in the first half.
Early on, Robert Briggs presented him with a decent chance in the area, but the striker was unable to divert the ball towards goal.
Andrew Stephenson – deployed behind the two strikers, with Michael Richardson unavailable due to illness – struck the woodwork in the 11th minute as he beat his man on the left of the box and cracked an effort which took a deflection before hitting the bar.
Stephenson had an even better chance soon after when a Briggs free-kick dropped at his feet, but an excellent block from Danny Tymon kept him off the scoresheet.
The first goal in the game was sure to be crucial, and only on rare occasions did the spirited Coleshill look likely to grab it.
One of those came when a ball over the top almost put Jordan Nadat through on goal, but Darren Lough covered excellently and got it clear.
At the other end, Cogdon missed his kick after a cut-back from Foley, while a low shot from Foley was well held by goalkeeper Paul Hathaway.
Shields were indebted to Liam Connell in the first leg after he made a number of fine stops to ensure they came back to South Tyneside with an advantage.
He made another vital stop eight minutes before half-time in the second leg.
Dean Rathbone struck a powerful effort 12 yards out, and Connell made a superb one-handed save to force the ball over the crossbar.
Later in the half, Craig Milligan sent another shot wide for the visitors as they enjoyed their best spell of the match.
Had the game been goalless at the break, despite Shields’ strong performance, nerves would have surely been jangling going into a 45-minute period in which all possibilities were well and truly open.
The Mariners needed a spark. A moment. A goal.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Cogdon got in down the right and when he pulled the ball back, it took a few bounces before hurtling towards the onrushing Arca. He met it with as sweet a connection as he could have hoped for, and it went sailing past Hathaway and into the net to send Mariners Park – and Arca – wild.
The breakthrough had arrived and Wembley was suddenly far more than just a dream. It was tantalisingly close.
Coleshill now required two goals to force extra-time, and so the whole context of the tie shifted slightly again.
It was Shields who started the second half on the front foot, and there they stayed, with Connell not called into any further serious action.
He was able to stand back and admire the football played in front of him as the Mariners showed their quality.
Stephenson went close with two efforts and Arca was denied by the foot of Hathaway after wriggling through on the inside-right of the area.
The goal to surely clinch Shields’ Wembley place came in the 62nd minute.
Briggs lifted the ball over the top to Cogdon, and as he raced through on goal, he waited for Hathaway to commit and then gloriously dinked it over him when he fell to the floor as he notched his 23rd goal of the season.
Shields continued to keep the ball for fun, all the while staying tight defensively and alert to any danger which came their way.
There were few more clear-cut chances until the closing stages, with first Jon Shaw denied when his header from deep was claimed by Hathaway.
Hathaway also made a good stop from substitute Finnigan with two minutes left after Briggs had beaten the defence with an excellent pass.
Finnigan was not kept off the scoresheet for long, though. After an excellent passing move which involved most members of the team, Alex Nicholson drove through the middle and then clipped a low ball into the box which Finnigan forced home, via a touch from Hathaway.
Within moments of the restart, Foley was sprinting through on the left, and he unleashed a fantastic left-footed shot across Hathaway and into the bottom corner to add another cherry on the top of an increasingly tasty cake for the Mariners.
The final whistle went and scenes of pure joy could be seen throughout Mariners Park, apart from those connected with Coleshill, who had done themselves proud over the two legs.
Young Shields supporters spilled onto the pitch to celebrate with their heroes, many of whom were visibly emotional.
One of those was Arca, the former Premier League star who is now well and truly an adopted Mariner.
He left the pitch to a rapturous reception and with tears streaming down his face. Just like the rest of the Shields squad, he had realised a dream.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Briggs, Phillips (Smith 77), Cogdon (Finnigan 63), Stephenson (Nicholson 73), Foley. Subs not used: Parkin, Storey.
Goals: Arca (45), Cogdon (62), Finnigan (90), Foley (90+1).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields and Coleshill Town lock horns again on Saturday as they do battle for a place at Wembley in the Buildbase FA Vase final.
The Mariners hold a 2-1 lead from the first leg, thanks to goals from David Foley and Andrew Stephenson last Saturday.
They will be backed by a Mariners Park record attendance as they aim to reach Wembley for the first time in the club’s history. Kick-off is at 3pm.
Despite the one-goal advantage, joint manager Lee Picton insists there is no danger of complacency from Shields.
He said: “I don’t think there will be any complacency going into the second leg.
“There shouldn’t be, because Coleshill caused us problems last week.
“If we had come away with a two or three-goal lead, there might have been a bit of complacency, but there shouldn’t be any whatsoever in this situation.”
Among those desperate to make it to Wembley for the first time in their career is Julio Arca.
Despite many years spent in the Premier League with Sunderland and Middlesbrough, the Argentinean has never been fortunate enough to make it onto the hallowed turf at the national stadium.
He said: “It’s massive for me and massive for the club.
“We’re so close to making history for the club, and everyone knows that.
“You could tell that we were under pressure a little bit last weekend.
“We showed some nerves at the beginning, but it’s normal.
“At this stage of a competition like this you will feel the nerves.
“This week, we’re playing at home and are going to have a lot of fans coming to support us.
“We need to start the game a lot better and I’m sure if we do that we’ll be all right.”
The Mariners will be without the cup-tied Anthony Callaghan, but Darren Holden is available again after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Tickets for the game are sold out.
The turnstiles will open at 11am, while the ground will remain open until midnight.
Drinks deals will be in operation between 11am and 1pm, and 5pm and 7pm. During those times, pints of Birra Moretti will be £2.80, while Foster’s and John Smith’s will be £2.40 and £2.20 respectively. Two bottles of Old Mout will be available for £5.50.
Mariners Park will be open long after the final whistle, with entertainment to be provided by former X Factor contestant Stevie Tennet pictured from 8pm.
Tickets for the Buildbase FA Vase semi-final second leg between South Shields and Coleshill Town have again sold out.
Shields will go into the game with a 2-1 lead from the first leg, and are set to be backed by another huge crowd at Mariners Park.
The initial allocation of home tickets sold out on Sunday, but more were available to buy from 12pm on Wednesday after a portion of the away allocation was returned by Coleshill.
They were snapped up within two hours.
Meanwhile, wristbands to watch the match from the balcony have also sold out.
On matchday, the ground will be open from 11am until midnight.
Drinks deals will be in operation between 11am and 1pm, and 5pm and 7pm. During those times, pints of Birra Moretti will be £2.80, John Smith’s will be £2.20 and Foster’s will be £2.40, while two bottles of Old Mout will be available for £5.50.
Thank you for the phenomenal support.