North Shields beat FA Vase finalists to reach Senior Cup final
North Shields fought their way past FA Vase finalists Morpeth Town to book their place in the Northumberland Senior Cup final.
A May day outing at St James’ Park now lies in wait for Graham Fenton’s side, with high-flying EvoStik outfit Blyth Spartans standing between the Robins and silverware.
Despite facing a gruelling fixture schedule, Morpeth boss Nick Gray put out a strong starting 11 on Tyneside, with a tight encounter predicted amongst the 428 in attendance.
Shields raced out of the blocks to stun the Highwaymen within a minute of kick-off.
Centre half Michael Hall failed to deal with a routine high ball, stumbling over in an attempt to clear and ceding possession to Gareth Bainbridge. Shields’ number nine promptly squared for the incoming Ben Richardson, who fired into the top corner from 12 yards.
It could have so easily been two within four minutes as the shellshocked visitors allowed Shields in once more.
Dean Holmes sped past Stephen Forster on the left and played the ball inside to Bainbridge, who did well to roll his marker but could not get enough on the shot to worry Karl Dryden between the sticks.
The hosts looked a threat on the counter and spurned another fantastic opportunity to double the lead.
A crunching Curtis Coppen challenge in the Morpeth third forced the ball kindly into Holmes’ path, the winger unable to round the excellent Dryden en route to goal.
Morpeth regained their bearings and started to impose themselves on the game, Keith Graydon in particular pulling the strings from the middle of the park.
Despite retaining possession well and probing down the flanks, Town could not make good on their increasing dominance, an easily gathered Michael Chilton header their only attempt in the early stages.
A Richardson free kick forced a superb two-handed stop from Dryden, but it was largely one-way traffic thereafter.
Shields struggled to string their passes together as Morpeth applied the pressure, Sean Taylor a constant menace on the left, but chances remained scarce, Shaun Bell shooting well wide and a well-struck Graydon volley only finding the palms of keeper Sean McCafferty.
The Wembley-bound visitors endured two injury scares before half-time, veteran Chris Swailes hobbling off and defensive partner Hall requiring lengthy treatment on a shoulder injury.
These concerns were the least of Town’s worries after the break as Shields doubled their lead, a whipped Michael McKeown corner bundled in from close range by Coppen.
Morpeth had done just the same to Shields in the FA Vase, scoring twice against the run of play to knock out the holders in February, but this time it was the away side who had to chase the game.
Graydon lifted well over in response, and was fortunate to escape censure for a late follow-through on Bainbridge minutes later.
Morpeth were comfortable on the ball going forward but still looked susceptible to mistakes at the back.
Dryden had to race out to clear a misplaced backpass with Bainbridge closing in, and Ryan McGorrigan’s goalbound follow-up was blocked by substitute David Hiftle.
With 22 minutes left to play, Morpeth clawed their way back into the tie through Vase hero Luke Carr.
The substitute played a neat one-two before surging into the box, and the fine curling finish had too much on it for McCafferty to parry out, the keeper unable to stop the ball from finding the top corner.
It was the first goal Shields had conceded in six games, and the hosts worked hard across the pitch to keep Town from grabbing a second.
Ben Sayer lashed wide from a corner and vociferous appeals for handball in the Robins box were turned down by referee Michael McDonough as the Highwaymen applied the pressure, the back four forced to repel wave after wave of attack.
However, Morpeth were unable to break down the indomitable defence, led by captain Kevin Hughes and the returning John Parker, with a succession of crosses headed clear of danger or gathered by the safe hands of McCafferty.
After five agonising minutes of added time, the final whistle was blown to the relief and jubilation of the home crowd.
A second cup final in two years now beckons for Shields, just one game away from lifting more silverware at the home of Newcastle United.
The Robins must now turn their attentions back to the league, with Ashington the latest side to visit the Daren Persson this Saturday.
North Shields: McCafferty, Donnison, Lancaster, McKeown, Parker, Hughes, McGorrigan (Glen-Ravenhill), Coppen, Bainbridge (Mason), Holmes (Carr).
Morpeth Town: McCafferty, Forster, Novak, Sayer, Swailes (Hiftle), Hall, Taylor, Graydon, Pearson, Chilton (Taggart), Bell (Carr).