Shildon travelled to Northern League rivals, Marske United for the tie of the round in the FA Vase, and one that both would have preferred to experience a good deal deeper in the tournament, if not on the Wembley turf in its final match.
Shildon’s back line for the game was seriously diminished. Matty Robson was lost to suspension after receiving his marching orders at Morpeth the previous Saturday.
Their shining young star, Dominic Curl, fell to injury in the same game and will potentially take up to six weeks to recover, while Kyle May departed the previous midweek to take over as manager at a struggling Penrith.
After just four minutes a long ball into the right channel gave replacement left back, Marc Ellison an insight into the pace of James Fairley. Giving the stand-in defender a five-yard start, the winger ghosted by his opponent before squaring to the unmarked Danny Earl who had the simplest of tasks to side foot past Liversedge in the Shildon goal.
It was the worst of starts for the visitors and the opening every Seasider, tucked in bed the night before the game, must have dreamt of.
Fairley was subjecting Ellison to a torrid time, but the visitors remained resolute and the game soon developed an ebb and flow as Shildon settled and made their own forays.
A couple of chances fell to Adam Burnicle, spearheading the Shildon attack alongside Mickey Rae, but on both occasions the angle was tight and the keeper well placed.
Fairley continued to cause problems, as did balls into the channels, and a cross by the winger almost led to a fortunate second when Ellison’s swiped clearance was mishit against the outside of his own post. Shildon had a goal ruled out for offside when Burnicle pierced the home defence with a diagonal run to latch onto a Billy Greulich-Smith pass, but as his rasping shot flew past Robert Dean, so the linesman raised his flag.
Shildon came out at pace and with a clear determination in the second half. On 52 minutes, a diagonal ball to Greulich-Smith was beautifully cushioned into the path of the onrushing Harwood, but the right back’s run was illegally halted by Curtis Round a foot inside the penalty area. In the absence of regular penalty taker, Matty Robson, Greulich-Smith stepped up and sent the kick straight down the middle as the keeper stretched to his right. Marske were clearly unsettled and the visitors would create, but squander a number of chances to take the lead.
Two opportunities in particular, late in the game, could have sealed a notable victory.
But Marske survived and the game made its way into extra time.
The home side took control of the first period and Shildon had Liversedge to thank for keeping them in the game with a series of superlative saves.
Then, with time almost up on the first period, Marske were gifted a throw from a loose Shildon pass. The ball was nodded out to Craig Gott, 25 yards from goal, and the prolific mid-fielder connected perfectly with the volley to return a rocket into the bottom corner and score for the seventh consecutive game. It was a goal fit to win any game and with time and energy reserves quickly evaporating, even Marske’s reduction to ten men for the final five minutes after the dismissal of Liddle for his second yellow card could not rescue Shildon. FA Vase it may have been, but this game, with its back and forth, its engrossing, tactical nuances, its endeavour, its high drama and its quality was as much an advert for the Northern League as it was for Step 5 nationally.
Shildon must quickly recover from their disappointment if they are to have an impact on the domestic campaign.
They remain in contention in the league and have the League Cup and Durham Challenge Cup on which to focus their energies.