On a blisteringly cold Tuesday evening, the adorned grass of St James Park was ready to host The Northumberland Senior Cup Final between Morpeth Town and North Shields. Morpeth Town looked set to continue their already impressive campaign, sitting seven points clear at the top of the EvoStik East Division with just five games to go - suggesting promotion and champion-status was all but secured. The Highwaymen were also enjoying fine form in this competition, after their resounding 2-0 win against Northumberland cup holders Newcastle U-23s at Craik Park just a month ago. However, their opponents North Shields were out for revenge - the previous meeting between these two sides saw Morpeth knocking Shields out of this exact tournament at the quarter final stage last year, adding spice to an already hotly anticipated fixture.
Despite Shields being a division below Morpeth, and going into the game in poor form having lost two of their previous four matches, the Robbins had the hilt of history behind them having won this competition 13 times in their 123-year history. Morpeth got us underway, attacking the famous Gallowgate end in front of an impressive 2,248 attendees, who proudly - and vocally - took their seats in the East Stand.
The Highwaymen immediately established themselves, dominating the early exchanges as captain Wayne Phillips dictated proceedings in the middle of the park. After a good run of possession, Morpeth’s David Carson - fresh from winning the Player of the Year at the Evo Stik awards - burst into the box with purpose, but his shot sailed wide.
The pressure continued, with Morpeth playing fast and furious football spearheaded by Joe Walton who provided an effective outlet on the right for the East Division leaders. Shields appeared rattled, demonstrating nerves that the 52,000 capacity stadium would impose upon anyone. Yet, striker Day continued to make himself a nuisance to Morpeth’s centre halfs, showing glimpses of promise for the Robins.
After a fine ball over the top, Day raced into the oppositions final third only to be halted by a magnificent challenge from Morpeth defender Michael Turner, summing up the aggression of the first half. However, disaster struck for the Robbins as on the 30th minute their striker was forced off with what looked like a knee injury, appearing visibly upset as he departed the field for youngster Callum Johnson.
Shields struggled to regroup after Day’s exit, and Morpeth capitalised in the 41st minute as a corner from Sayer was spilled by keeper Robinson, with Liam Henderson on hand to head in the loose ball - bringing his tally to 14 for the season. Morpeth threatened to make it two before the interval as the ball fell to the exuberant Joe Walton in the box, but the winger opted for placement over power when the former seemed the better option and his shot was easily saved. The referee brought an end to the first half which was full of gruel and gile, but Morpeth just edged it - going into the break 1-0 up.
The second half started off in similarly feisty fashion with both teams putting in hearty challenges - neither side could be accused of leaving anything off the field. Five minutes into the second half and Shields substitute Johnson had his first real influence on the game, as he approached Morpeth’s box with options to his left and right. However, he hesitated and the attack was thwarted after he appeared to be caught in two minds. Proceedings were very much even, with both teams enjoying good spells on the ball but failing to make any clear cut chances.
However, Morpeth climbed back into the ascendency with Walton, Carson and Henderson proving to be a tricky trio, making purposeful runs and linking up well. Their attractive play almost paid dividends as the ball was played from the right to Chris Reid in the box, but his header sailed over the bar. Shields then took the plunge and made their final change of the game on 70 minutes, showing their determination to get back into the game. Hall made way for Ormston, and Morpeth followed suit - taking off the tireless Hodgson for Tom Potter.
These substitutions livened what was beginning to become a tiresome game, and Morpeth started to look the stronger of the two sides as they reasserted themselves in midfield and down the channels. However, against the run of play Shields broke down the left and a great cross from McRoberts was met with aplomb from ex-Newcastle hopeful Craig Spooner, who’s fine glancing header levelled up the scores at 1-1.
Going into the final 15 minutes, the game began to get frantic as both teams scraped for that all important second, most likely winning, goal. Morpeth started to lose their rhythm with influential players Carson and Sayer struggling to find the passes they were stringing together like clockwork during the first 45. With the possibility of extra time looming, Morpeth’s perseverance nearly paid off as a brilliantly whipped free kick from Sayer fell to Walton in the box, but his shot was blocked by flailing bodies of red shirts - demonstrating Shields’ commitment to the cause.
This was to be the final action of the 90 minutes, and the referee blew his whistle. With nerves jarred and the game evenly poised, both teams came out fighting in the final 30-minutes. Morpeth began the better of the two sides, with their purposeful play warranting two consecutive corners which were then defended superbly by Shields. Shields had an opening themselves in the 100th minute, as substitute Johnston raced forward and looked for Ormston in the box, but his cross was headed behind for a corner.
After some great link up play between Carson and Sayer, the ball fell kindly for the Morpeth winger but his shot was deflected by Hughes and then calmly claimed by Robinson, giving Shields some respite from the incessant Morpeth pressure. The growing influence of the Highwaymen almost paid dividends as Carson ran through one-on-one with Robinson, but with the headlines awaiting him and the stars in his eyes, he was denied by a fantastic save from the Shields keeper.
That brought the end to a a tense first half of extra time, and we entered the final 15 minutes to see if either side could snatch the glory. Morpeth got the game back underway and they resumed their calm and collected play, knocking the ball around with real confidence. However Shields looked unlikely to give in, digging in deep to reclaim possession and build some assertion themselves.
With that, two minutes into the second half, centre-back Donnison found himself through on goal but his attacking inexperience showed, as his shot trickled wide. With the trophy on the line, tempers began to flare as Morpeth’s Michael Turner got himself booked after a harsh challenge on Johnston, who was doing a sterling job for the Robins up top.
Just a minute later, a shot from Shields midfielder Adam Forster sailed wide of the goal, suggesting 110 minutes of football was beginning to take its toll on the players. However, this wasn’t the case for Morpeth’s Joe Walton, as he attempted a spectacular albeit ambitious overhead kick which went just wide of Shields’ goal.
This seemed to rejuvenate the Highwaymen, and Walton’s miss was to not prove costly as only a minute later substitute Jack Foalle wrote his name into the history books with a strike to put Morpeth ahead. Defender Forster swung in a devilish cross that was knocked down from Walton and volleyed in at the back post by Foalle, sending the travelling Morpeth fans into delirium.
Shields pressed forward in search of an equaliser but the game could have been put out of sight, as Forster raced forward and got an early effort away that was easily saved by Robinson. The final whistle went just two minutes later and the perils of football were encapsulated as jubilant Morpeth players contrasted with those crestfallen of Shields. It had been a vaillant display from the Robins who gave their upper-league opponents a fantastic match.
However, nothing could dampen Morpeth’s parade as the Highwaymen celebrated their first Northumberland Senior Cup victory since winning it back in 2007.
Morpeth Town: Lowson, Forster, Turner, Sayer, J. Henderson, Reid (Fry, 83), David Carson, Hodgson (Potter, 70), L. Henderson (Foalle, 90), Phillips (c), Walton
Subs not Used: Graydon, Danny Carson.
Goals: L. Henderson 41’, Foalle 111’
North Shields: Robinson, Donnison, McDonald, Hall (Ormston, 68), Nearney, Hughes, Spooner, Forster, Day, Carr (Johnston, 35), Robinson (McRoberts, 61).
Subs not Used: McManus, Purvis.
Goals: Spooner 72’