North Shields’ road to Wembley started last September in North Yorkshire against Northallerton Town with a depleted side.
Despite only having one fit striker, Dan Smart – in his only start of the season – fired home a super strike to secure the Robins’ passage.
Another trip to a Northern League Second Division outfit followed and Graham Fenton’s men roared into a three goal advantage against Stokesley though it could have been much more so dominant were the Tynesiders.
The hosts rallied and pulled two back in quick succession and it took until the last kick when Gareth Bainbridge bagged his fourth of the afternoon that the Robins could breathe easy.
A first home game at the Daren Persson Stadium saw AFC Emley the visitors and the Huddersfield side contributed to a great spectacle – the sides level at the break before the Tynesiders emerged 4-2 victors with Bainbridge adding to his Vase tally with a brace and James Luccock and Dwan Holmes also getting on the scoresheet.
That man Bainbridge bagged a hat trick in a 3-0 verdict at Sunderland RCA then on their travels again Bainbridge and Ben Richardson both scored twice to see off Second Division Champions Seaham Red Star as Shields won 4-2.
Another two for Bainbridge plus Denver Morris and Luccock saw off the Steelmen of Consett then a similar scoreline despatched Southern Counties East Champions and previously unbeaten Phoenix Sports as they headed south from Tyneside reeling from strikes by Bainbridge (2), Richardson and Holmes.
Onto the quarters and at Welling’s ground second half goals from Holmes and Adam Forster – both quality goals – plus determined and gritty defending sent hosts Erith and Belvedere out of the competition.
Against Swindon-based Highworth Town, Shields overcame a difficult playing surface to triumph through a Holmes finish then at a windswept Ralph Gardner Park in the second leg Bainbridge and Holmes sent the bumper home crowd into ecstasy late on and that surreal dream was a reality.