They say “good things come to those who wait”, well whoever “they” are, have been proven right in the case of Morpeth Town boss Nicky Gray.
The EBAC Northern League side finally got to play their eagerly-anticipated FA Vase Third Round tie against South Shields at the ninth attempt on Wednesday night, after a combination of heavy snow, frosty pitches and constant rain put paid to the previous eight attempts.
And once the tie was finally played, it did not disappoint.
The two North East sides shared six goals over the one hundred and twenty minutes, with the game going into extra time before finally being decided in an epic penalty shoot-out.
It was Gray’s Highwaymen who finally triumped 10-9 in the shoot-out, with both sides having a number of chances to win it before South Shields midfielder Leepaul Scroggins saw his spot kick saved by Town keeper Karl Dryden.
Gray(pictured left), although obviously delighted, revealed his sympathy for opposite number Jon King and his Mariners side.
“It was an up and down rollercoaster of a game. We played the better football in the opening twenty five minutes and took the lead but we took our foot off the gas.
They took over and to be fair they were excellent.
Penalties is just a lottery, anyone can win it and fortunately it was us. I am delighted for my chairman, for my players and you do need luck. We had that last night.
When Karl (Dryden) saves that penalty, my first reaction was that I felt sorry for South Shields and for everyone at the club”
Gray paid tribute to his own players, admitting that they have “matured” in the last year, learning lessons about how to win games when they aren’t at their best.
“They are resiliant, my lot are always like that and that is something I am proud of, very proud in fact. They have matured a lot in the last twelve months.
I keep saying to them you can’t always win playing pretty football but there are times when you have to dig in and get the result.
At a goal down it looked over but we kept coming back and I can’t fault them.
We haven’t played well in the game but we got through and in cup competitions, that is all that matters”
There was one regret for Gray after the win, albeit a somewhat surprising one.
The decision was made that the tie would be settled on the night, with extra time and penalties coming into play if required.
That came to pass and Gray believes that supporters have missed out on the chance of
another remarkable fixture between the two sides.
“The penalties could have been won by both sides. They had a chance to win it and then we were always ahead, so the pressure was on South Shields players, that’s never easy.
Two lads took them again but the quality of the penalties were top notch and it’s a credit to both sides.
In a way it’s sad that we can’t have a replay because there would have been some crowd and some match after the entertaining game both sides put on last night”
The Highwaymen have been installed as 8/1 third favourites to win the Vase this season, with only Pheonix clubs Hereford FC and Salisbury FC ahead of them in the betting.
And Gray believes if they are to be successful in winning a trophy that the Northern League has almost monopolised over the past decade, his experienced players will have a big part to play.
“Our experienced players are big for us.
Players like Keith Graydon(pictured above right scoring in the 2013 Vase Final for Spennymoor Town), who has just accepted a new one-year deal with us, he is massive.
Then there is Chris Reid, who has been there and done it with Whitley Bay, he is another big player.
Then there is experience like Chris Swailes and Michael Chilton, there is a lot of big characters in there and that will help the younger lads”
They face a quick turnaround in the competition, with their last thirty tie against fellow Northern League outfit North Shields(pictured left celebrating their win last season) taking place at Morperth’s Craik Park ground on Saturday.
Their opponents are the current holders and Gray described the tie as “massive”, stating that the opportunity to knock the holders out of the competition is “a big incentive”.
“It’s North Shields, the FA Vase holders, it’s massive, a massive game for us and for everyone at Morpeth Town.
But my lads have a big incentive, after last night, to beat North Shields, who are a great side.
If we can beat them, the Vase holders, to get through to the last sixteen of a national competition, it is a big incentive for us”
Interview: Mark Carruthers
Images: Morpeth Town FC / www.actionimages.com