In-form Warren Byrne insists South Shields fear no one in this season’s FA Vase after the striker grabbed a dramatic winner at Bishop Auckland on Friday.
Byrne fired the Mariners into round two with an 85th minute goal as they registered a 14th victory in a row to see off their Northern League Division One opposition 2-1.
Shields – who were backed by an extremely large and vocal away following thought to be in excess of 500 – controlled much of the first half, and were handed a major boost on 36 minutes when home defender Thomas Bott was sent off for a professional foul on Byrne.
Ben Riding later headed the Mariners into the lead, but the 10 men of Bishops fought back, and Andrew Johnson rattled in a penalty on 80 minutes.
With extra-time looming, though, up popped Byrne to tap in after Michael Turner pulled a ball across goal with five minutes left, to spark joyous scenes on the terraces.
Shields have now seen off two First Division sides in this season’s Vase, with Washington and Bishop Auckland beaten 2-1.
And Byrne is confident they have what it takes to go further in the competition.
He said: “I don’t see why we can’t have a good run in the FA Vase with the squad we’ve got.
“We’ve knocked two First Division sides out now, so we don’t fear anybody.
“If we get a couple of good draws, perhaps at home with a good crowd in as usual, who knows?
“The fans were brilliant again on Friday. I’ve played for a few Northern League clubs now, and I’ve never seen support like it. The Shields fans are unbelievable.
“I had family there as well, and my little boy is only three but he stayed awake and saw me score the winner.
“He was buzzing, as were the rest of my family, and it was a really nice moment for me to celebrate my goal in the corner they were standing.”
In recent games that he has started, Byrne has been replaced on about the hour mark, and he admitted he feared the same would happen at Heritage Park before he claimed his 16th goal of the season.
He added: “I was thinking in the back of my head, ‘Don’t sub me!’, because it was getting on a bit in the game and I thought it might happen.
“I was pleased I didn’t come off, and it was nice to get the winner.
“I haven’t started every game recently and have had a few rests, but I felt as though I got stronger the longer the game went on.
“I got the goal and I was a bit tired towards the end, as I had been playing up front on my own and it was a hard job.
“I worked hard, though, as did the other lads, and I think that’s what got us through the game.”
Manager Jon King, meanwhile, admitted Shields weren’t at their best on a pitch badly affected by heavy rainfall in the hours before the game.
However, he was always confident the Mariners would grind out the result.
He said: “It was a fantastic result for us against a good side. The pitch didn’t allow it to be pretty, but we found a way to get through, which was the most important thing.
“At 11 vs 11, we were the better team, but we didn’t really make the extra man count when they went down to 10.
“We didn’t play as well as we would have liked, but you can’t question the lads’ character.
“It’s 14 wins on the spin, and they found a way to win against a good side without playing well at all.
“Even when Bishop Auckland got their equaliser, I didn’t think for one second that we were going to be beaten, because the lads have got that winning mentality at the moment and a terrific attitude.
“We kept going, and Warren popped up with the winning goal, which provided us with a fantastic moment.”
Shields’ fans were vocal throughout the game, and King felt they played a big part, too.
He added: “The fans were absolutely tremendous, and came in their hundreds.
“They gave the lads a huge lift and never stopped singing, so we were over the moon to send them home happy.
“The fans behind the goal went wild when we got the winner, and it’s fantastic to see the town getting behind us.
“South Shields has always been a sleeping giant, and I’m absolutely delighted that we’re getting this sort of support.
“They gave us an incredible reception when we returned to the dressing room after the game, and it’s hard to imagine what they would have been like if we had played really, really well.
“I’ve never known support like it at this level, and long may it continue.”
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Galpin, Turner, Hall, Riding, Smith, Sakr (Foley 56), Scroggins (c), Byrne (Briggs 88), Arca, Phillips. Subs not used: Young, Bulford, Ramsey.
Goals: Riding (62), Byrne (85).