An 89th minute winner by Sam Hodgson fired South Shields Academy into their second national final of the season as they brilliantly beat a strong Hartpury College side on Wednesday.
The young Mariners were up against some top talent in the ECFA National Play-Off semi-final in Gloucester but showed tremendous character to pull through.
Joint manager Lee Picton declared the win as “probably the best” the Academy has produced since its inception in the summer of 2017.
They will now compete in the final of the competition at Port Vale FC’s Vale Park on Thursday, May 9.
That will come a day after they take on Basford United in the final of the National League Under-19 Alliance League Cup at Walsall FC’s Banks’s Stadium.
Dom Minchella gave Shields the lead against Hartpury with a brilliant solo effort which went in off the post just before the 20-minute mark.
Hartpury hit back with an equaliser scored by England Schoolboys player King Baidoo on 68 minutes, but the young Mariners were not to be denied.
Hodgson netted the winner with a minute left to play as he finished off a counter-attack to spark jubilant scenes.
Picton and fellow joint manager Graham Fenton were left delighted by the performance of their players.
Picton said: “This was a game in which we had to play a completely different style to the one we usually employ.
“We knew we were up against a very strong outfit, and we decided to sit off and drop right in.
“We played counter-attacking football, which is something the lads aren’t used to, but they executed the gameplan brilliantly.
“Hartpury probably had something like 70% of the possession, and because we successfully frustrated them and hit them on the break, we had the best chances of the game.
“If we had been a little bit more clinical in front of goal, we could have won by a slightly bigger margin.
“The general character and determination shown by the lads was incredible.”
Picton added: “Hartpury had some unbelievable talent on show, but we didn’t give them the space to really hurt us.
“Defensively, we were absolutely outstanding.
“It was probably the best win our Academy has had since it started.
“We’re now into two national finals, which is absolutely fantastic.
“Unfortunately the finals are on consecutive days, which is going to give us a headache in terms of logistics.
“We’ve just got to try to put out two really strong teams and do our best to win them both.
“It’s going to be a fantastic experience for the players.”
SSFC Academy team against Hartpury College: Steavens, Yembe, Croft, Biwer, Patterson, Lockey, Minchella, S Black, S Hodgson, Scott, McCamley. Subs: Carney, Elcoate, Jenkins, Colquhoun.
South Shields progressed to the fifth round of the National League Under-19 Alliance League Cup with a superb 5-2 win at Mansfield Town on Wednesday.
The young Mariners have been in terrific form and continued that with a fine showing in Nottinghamshire.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side were in command in the first half, racing into a 4-1 lead.
Goals from Sam Hodgson, David Allasan, Olly Scott and Ethan Biwer did the damage as Shields took what appeared to be an unassailable advantage into the second half.
Mansfield responded well after the break, but a goal from substitute Dom Minchella wrapped up an impressive victory for the Mariners as they marched into the next round.
Picton was satisfied with the performance of his team.
He said: “We played some really attractive stuff at times, particularly in the first half.
“We led 4-1 at half-time and unfortunately allowed our levels to drop a little bit in the second half, but we still had enough to see out the victory.
“Overall it was a very pleasing performance and one we can take great heart from.
“For us to travel that far and come away with a result like this is brilliant.
“Fingers crossed we get a good home draw in the next round to give us the best possible opportunity of progressing further.”
SSFC Academy team to face Mansfield Town: Bramley, Biwer, Devine, Bexton, Onarbay, Lockey, Thompson, Scott, Hodgson, Guy, Allasan. Subs: Patterson, Elcoate, Minchella, Colquhoun.
Goals: Hodgson, Allasan, Scott, Biwer, Minchella.
The club’s Under-19s are also in fine form in the league, and sit third in the table heading into their next fixture, away to Eccleshill United on Wednesday, January 30.
They are 11 points behind leaders Guiseley with three games in hand, and six points behind second-placed Gateshead, who have played four more games.
The young Mariners’ most recent outing in the league saw them come from behind to defeat York City 2-1 at Silksworth Sports Complex on Wednesday, January 9.
After falling behind, Max Cowburn drew Shields level on 73 minutes to set up a grandstand finish.
The young Mariners finally got their rewards against impressive opposition when Sam Hodgson netted the winner 13 minutes from the end as Shields leapfrogged their opponents in the table.
It promises to be an exciting end to the season for the Under-19s as they battle for silverware on two fronts.
Max Cowburn hit five goals as South Shields Academy stormed to a 13-0 win at Crewe Alexandra in the National League Under-19 Alliance League Cup on Wednesday.
Bailey Judson also netted a hat-trick in the young Mariners’ first round victory as they turned on the style with TWELVE second half goals in Cheshire.
Dom Minchella (2), Callum Guy (2) and Josh Elcoate were the other scorers in what became a thumping win for Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side.
The score was just 1-0 at half-time before Shields found their cutting edge after the break.
Picton said: “The lads played some really good football at times in the game.
“We lacked a little bit of a cutting edge in the final third in the first half.
“We found that in abundance in the second half to win the match comfortably.
“It is great that we have progressed to the next round, when we will be hoping for a stronger test.”
SSFC Academy: Armstrong, Biwer, Scott, Carney, Onarbay, Bexton, McCamley, Elcoate, Colquhoun, Guy, Cowburn. Subs: Patterson, Allen, Minchella, Judson.
Goals: Cowburn (5), Judson (3), Guy (2), Minchella (2), Elcoate (1).