South Shields management duo Graham Fenton and Lee Picton admit choosing the starting XI for the FA Vase final was one of the toughest things they had to do.
The Mariners cruised past Cleethorpes Town 4-0 in Sunday’s Wembley showpiece to round off an astonishing season with a fourth trophy.
The strength in depth of the squad has enabled the team to compete on all fronts, but that has also brought selection headaches for the joint bosses.
Robert Briggs and Michael Richardson were both left out of the starting line-up on Sunday, while Iulian Petrache didn’t make the bench.
Carl Finnigan and Andrew Stephenson were picked in the midfield diamond ahead of Briggs and Richardson.
And Fenton says their form over the last month – including the League Cup and Durham Challenge Cup finals – was why they got the nod.
He said: “We set a blank canvas in the dressing room after we qualified for the (Vase) final and said places were up for grabs, go and show us what you’ve got from now until the final.
“Some people have really stuck their necks out and it was more to do with people doing well rather than people not doing well.
“The people we left out had still been playing well, still contributing hugely, but unfortunately, you can only pick 11 people and we decided to go with the midfield four that we did.”
Picton admits that, if there was a slight downside to the weekend, it was having to tell players they weren’t included from the start.
But he says he is proud of their reaction and how they came together to help the Mariners lift the famous trophy.
Briggs and Richardson both stepped off the bench in the second half to play vital roles in clinching the win, with assists for the crucial second and third goals.
“That was the hardest and lowest point of the weekend, and the season to be honest,” admitted Picton.
“We’ve got a group of players who have been outstanding pretty much across the board all season long, so to have to tell some of the players that their hopes and dreams of starting at Wembley are shattered was a real tough moment for us.
“But what I will say is that it was a measure of the quality of personality and human being that we have in our dressing room that we took that disappointment.
“Some of them came on the pitch, some of them didn’t, but there was no sulking in the background.
“We’ve come together as a side and a group and we’re immensely proud of that.”
For both managers, it isn’t their first taste of Wembley success. Picton won the Vase twice as a player with Whitley Bay, while Fenton won the League Cup as a player with Aston Villa in 1994 and guided North Shields to the Vase as a manager in 2015.
For Fenton, it was the perfect way to celebrate his birthday, turning 43 yesterday as the celebrations went long into the night, and he says every opportunity to be at Wembley is unique.
“I don’t really like to compare,” he said.
“I’ve been here a few times now with different teams and they are just different.
“I had a hugely enjoyable day two years ago, and this is a fantastic experience and I’m really enjoying it.
“Every opportunity you get to come to Wembley to either play or manage, you’ve just got to embrace the occasion.”