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.
South Shields take on National League outfit FC Halifax Town on Saturday as the teams do battle for a place in the first round of the Emirates FA Cup.
The Mariners are looking to reach that stage of the competition for the first time since the club reformed in 1974 but are in for a tough encounter with a side which competed in the National League play-offs last season.
A game of this magnitude – arguably among the biggest in Shields’ recent history – would be expected to attract a crowd in excess of 3,000 in normal circumstances.
However, due to current restrictions the attendance will be limited to 300, with all tickets having been sold.
The club greatly regrets that more supporters will not be able to cheer the team on at 1st Cloud Arena but appeals for fans to get behind the players from home by watching the live stream, which can be accessed and paid for by clicking here. The stream will cost £5 to watch.
The lack of a bumper crowd has been one of the major talking points in the lead-up to the fixture, but motivation is not expected to be an issue for the Mariners, who were defeated by Hartlepool United at this stage of the competition three years ago.
Joint manager Graham Fenton said: “It’s hugely disappointing that 1st Cloud Arena won’t be packed to the rafters with home and away supporters, because it would have been a tremendous occasion for everyone to be involved in.
“Nevertheless, we are still hugely looking forward to this game and challenge, because it’s still the FA Cup and we want to go as far as possible in it.
“Not so long ago, we had the big disappointment of being beaten by Hartlepool United at this stage and we still carry some regrets about that match.
“There’s still a handful of players within our squad who will remember that occasion vividly and will want to go at least one step further.
“Those disappointing occasions in football only make you more determined when the next opportunity arises to go one better, and we’ll be giving it everything we’ve got to achieve that goal.”
Shields go into the tie having drawn 0-0 with local rivals Morpeth in midweek, and lost 1-0 at home to Matlock Town last Saturday.
Fenton, though, has been pleased with recent performances and has called for the Mariners to stick to their principles against Halifax.
He added: “Looking back across the last three games, we feel the performances have been stronger than the results have shown.
“We could have won in normal time based on our second half display at Southport and our performance across the whole game against Matlock – when we had 17 attempts at goal to their three – made it hugely disappointing to lose 1-0, but football can be cruel at times and that was one of those occasions.
“We believe we did enough against Morpeth to earn all three points because of the chances we created, but it wasn’t to be.
“We are pleased with how the players have performed over those games but it will also be great to welcome some of the injured lads back at some point.”
Shields remain without Luke Daly and Nathan Lowe, although both are progressing well in their recovery from knee injuries.
Captain Jon Shaw is a doubt for the 3pm kick-off against his former side.
Tickets for the match are sold out but a live stream is available by clicking here.
Tickets for Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie between South Shields and FC Halifax Town will go on sale to season ticket holders on Tuesday.
The capacity of 1st Cloud Arena for the game has been set at 300, in line with current Durham FA rules, and only South Shields supporters will be permitted to attend.
Tickets will be available to purchase over the phone only from 9am. The number to call is 0191 454 7800 and tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis, with one ticket available per season ticket holder.
Supporters are asked for patience when attempting to get through on the phone as the club has just three lines, meaning it may take some time to get through the phonecalls which come in.
The club anticipates that some season ticket holders will miss out on tickets for this match and can only apologise in advance that this will be the case, but we are powerless to change the current guidelines and must remain patient for the day we can welcome all of our brilliant supporters back to 1st Cloud Arena.
Ticket prices for the match have been set at £10 for adults, £8 for students and over-65s, and £3 for under-16s.
A live stream of the game will be available, with full details of that to be announced later in the week.
Thank you for the continued support, patience and understanding.