Match analysis: South Shields 1 Hartlepool United 2
So near, yet so far.
Pride, passion, vociferous support off the pitch and blood, sweat and tears on it. The only thing missing was the result.
Three divisions separated Hartlepool United and South Shields at the start of play, roll time back to May and it was five leagues between the sides.
Having witnessed 90 minutes of FA Cup fourth round qualifying round action, like the 2,800 others at Mariners Park, which ebbed and flowed, entertained and enthralled like the old ‘magical’ cup ties of yesteryear, I’m in absolutely no doubt South Shields are a fifth tier team in all but name.
For 45 minutes the hosts were the team in ascendancy.
The very impressive Carl Finnigan, who caught the eye of one or two of the Pools players as a couple of notable members of the Pools hierarchy in the stands, bagged a deserved opener midway through the opening period.
An inch-perfect cross-field ball from the equally as impressive Jon Shaw, who marshalled his backline expertly, was taken on the chest of Finnigan, forcing Scott Harrison to slip, then dispatched past former England call-up Scott Loach between the Pools sticks.
The roar. There have been some good times in this little part of South Tyneside in the last few years, but rarely has there ever been so much noise made by such a small band of people. The relief, the tension, the pride, all came gushing out as Jarrow boy Finnigan almost burst the net.
As we all know it was not to last though, despite it felling like the Mariners game to lose at the break.
Half an hour of Shields dominance ensued with Matty Pattison, who ran the show as a No 10 for large patches of this encounter, forcing Loach into two impressive stops, as well as rattling the bar with another effort.
As so often is the case, one goal was never going to be enough.
One slight error of judgement in the home defence allowed Devante Rodney to scuff in the equaliser ten minutes after the break.
Then a moment of brilliance from Nicky Deverdics, a former Newcastle youth team colleague of Finnigan, Craig Baxter, Pattison et al, saw Shields’ dreams go up in smoke.
To a man, every one of those who wore the burgundy shirts on the day will have walked away from Mariners with the feeling of what could have been.
Some, will have felt they did not produce their very best on the day.
In fairness, it was clear to see from the tired legs late in the second half that these lads, playing against a pacey, youthful and in-form Hartlepool side, gave absolutely everything. They bared their souls out on the park.
Off the field the town turned out in force to support their boys, as ever.
Almost each and every one of them has their allegiances, whether that be black and white, red and white or beyond, but this is about so much more than that. There is a real sense of pride, ownership and belonging about Shields as a club.
This is THEIR team, THEIR town, a pride in the identity, a joy in putting this once great club back on the map in wider footballing consciousness.
Ambition courses through the veins. You feel it when you walk through the doors, it’s there when you stand on the terraces.
Everyone associated with the club, from the bar staff and those collecting the tickets at the gate to the players, the management and those who flock to there now rain or shine, all of them know exactly where this club is headed. Many have seen the bad times, too.
Word from the dressing room is that Lee Picton and Graham Fenton keep telling the squad that they are more than capable of holding their own in the National League North.
On this showing they’re doing this hungry, driven squad a disservice.
We’ve probably all known it for some time just how good Shields really are, but it’s been hard to gauge quality when the players are rarely truly tested to their full ability in the Evo-Stik.
With Darlington dispatched and York City also sent packing from Mariners, another North Eastern Football League stalwart in Hartlepool proved a bridge too far.
There’s a new kid in town, and his day will inevitably come.
But for now the old guard lives to fight another day. For how long, is anyone’s guess?