Liam Connell: I want to turn my Coleshill hat-trick into a fantastic four
The diminutive striker raced up, swung right-footed and fired a shot towards Liam Connell, crouched between the posts.
Lacking pace, the ball trundled towards the South Shields goalkeeper. He had it covered.
It looked a certain save, only for the ball to somehow, inexplicably, slip between his legs and inch and roll agonisingly over the line.
Three-year-old Evie Isabella Connell wheeled away in delight, screaming goal at the top of her voice as her dad fished the ball out the back of the net.
“I’ll get them mistakes out of the way before Saturday,” he smiled.
He’ll need to, if Shields are to reach Wembley for the first time in their history.
The fact that they still have a chance is due largely down to Connell’s heroics in the first leg of their semi-final against Coleshill Town six days ago. With Shields not at their best, their goalkeeper had one of his best games since signing for the club from Dunston UTS in the summer, making a series of fine saves as the Mariners edged to a 2-1 victory.
The 30-year-old is vastly experienced at this level, having won the Vase with Dunston five years ago. He also has history with Coleshill – all of it good.
While he may have been inactive for long spells in games this season as Shields racked up 23 wins in a row, when called upon at Pack Meadow last Saturday he was there to be counted upon.
“A lot of games this season I’ve had nothing to do but the lads in front of me have confidence in me that, if they do get through, I’ve got a good chance of stopping them,” he said.
“I think that’s the third time I’ve played Coleshill in the last few years in the Vase and it would be great to get four wins out of four.
“Last season I played against them for Dunston and we beat them after extra time in the fourth round.
“Every time I’ve played them they’ve had a good team. there’s a lot of players who were with them five or six years ago.
“They’ve got good fundamentals in their team, and that showed on Saturday, but hopefully we can exploit their weaknesses and put on a proper performance.”
Connell, man of the match last weekend, would settle for a quieter afternoon at Mariners Park tomorrow.
Though how quiet he can expect it to be, with more than three thousand Shields fans crammed into the ground, remains to be seen.
A record attendance, he hopes, will increase the pressure on Coleshill, not the home players.
“If anything, it’s a bonus,” he said of the crowd. “They are our 12th man regardless of whether we are home or away. We have the biggest support there.
“People look at it as pressure but we are used to playing in front of big crowds now and hopefully it will get to them a little bit as they might not be used to it.
“Three and a half thousand crammed into Mariners, it might be intimidating for them.
“You always look at the crowd and think it might be off-putting but once you’re out there you have to blank it out. I can see that more than anyone as often I’m standing around doing nothing but I forget about the crowd and so do the lads.”
One thing the shot-stopper will never forget is the 2011/12 season, which culminated in him playing at Wembley – and lifting the FA Vase with Dunston after a 2-0 win over West Auckland.
There have been near misses too, however, losing quater-finals to eventual winners Whitley Bay in 2011, and again to West Auckland en route to their second final defeat in 2014.
For Connell, he’ll be reminding his team-mates tomorrow that the delight at reaching Wembley will be nothing to the pain and devastation if they don’t get over the line.
“Youre going to have blips throughout the season. Hopefully Saturday was a little blip and we can put it right this Saturday.
“It will help me personally but there’s five or six of us who have been to Wembley,” he added. “It brings a little bit of experience to us, not just of if we win and get there but also the feeling of devastation if we get beat.
“I don’t want that feeling and hopefully I can pass on to the lads how gutted you will feel if you get beat.
“We need to think of that aspect rather than just looking forward and thinking ‘win, win, win’. We need to think if we lose, how will that feel because it will dishearten a lot of people.”
Football-mad Evie Connell included.