Consett are on their way to Wembley after beating Bitton 1-0 in the FA Vase semi-final at Belle View Stadium today.
Calvin Smith got the all-important goal, pictured above courtesy of John Paul Hardy, deep into extra time, after a great cutback from the byline by Matty Cornish.
Consett’s opponents in the final will be Northern League rivals Hebburn Town, who went through on penalties after a 2-2 draw with Kent side Corinthian.
Manager Terry Mitchell made four changes to the starting XI which beat Ryhope CW in the FA Cup in the opening fixture of the campaign in midweek.
Big Guns Dale Pearson, Luke Carr and Ali Alshabeeb all returned, despite lack of match fitness due to pre-seasson injuries, while Nick Allen was preferred to Darren Holden at left-back.
Carl Lawson, who scored two and claimed an assist in midweek, had to be content with a place on the bench, as did Matty Cornish, while Lewis Green missed out completely, due to the emergency FA rule stipulating that only two new players could be included in the matchday squad.
Carr almost gave Consett a dream start after just three minutes with a free-kick from 25 yards, and his effort was so close that some fans in the sell-out 300 crowd thought it had gone in.
Carr had Consett’s next effort too, but his shot from the edge of the box after a nice bit of skill left a defender for dead was wide of the target.
Skipper Arjun Purewal went close with a header from a corner, Matty Slocombe fired an effort wide, and then a deft back-header from Alshabeeb went straight to the keeper.
Bitton, who were kicking into a gusty wind, had little to show in terms of clear-cut chances, but were posing a danger down both flanks, and defending resolutely, throwing bodies in the way of every shot. They were clearly a class above every other side Consett had faced in this run so far.
Half-time: Consett 0 Bitton 0
Pearson had the first real chance of the second half when he was teed up by Jake Orrell, and although his shot was well struck, Bitton keeper Rob Brown, who had confidently handled everything that came his way, saw it all the way.
On 51 minutes Pearson was involved again as he tried to react to a loose ball when Brown saved from Calvin Smith. The keeper semed to clean him out, but the referee waved away Consett’s penalty appeals.
Good work down the right by Jermaine Metz set the outstanding Slocombe up for a shot on 62 minutes, but his effort lacked power and the keeper saved easily.
It wasn’t all Consett, however, as Bitton still posed a threat, and Kyle Hayes had to be alert on 69 minutes to turn away a low effort from distance by Ash Kington.
A minute later Alshabeeb picked up a loose ball outside the box and tried his luck, but his effort was rising all the way over the bar. It was his final involvement in the game, as he was replaced by Matty Cornish in what was to prove a crucial substitution.
The game was hanging on a knife edge at this point, and could have gone either way. Bitton thought they had scored following a goalmouth scramble from a corner, when the ball hit the bar and bounced down, but the officials decided it hadn’t crossed the line.
Cornish fired over and Hayes tipped over a cross from Mitch Tippins which threatened to dip in as the sides traded chances, and as nerves began to fray there was a flare-up around the dugouts which resulted in Bitton’s assistant manager being sent off.
Full-time: Consett 0 Bitton 0
Thirty minutes of extra time it was, and the first 15 saw Consett throw the kitchen sink at their visitors, who still held firm. Slocombe fired wide from 25 yards, and Cornish’s header from Smith’s cross was saved on the line by Brown.
Max Russell, who’d come on as a fourth sub for the spent Carr, rounded the keeper and looked certain to score, only to see his effort kicked off the line, and Orrell’s follow-up was blocked by yet more superb last-ditch defending.
The final minute of the half saw another big penalty shout for Consett when Cornish was flattened from behind by a defender. He was inside the box, but instead of pointing to the spot the referee gave a free-kick right on the edge, which Darren Holden blazed over the bar.
Half-time in extra time: Consett 0 Bitton 0
Aysa Corrick had been Bitton’s most dangerous player all afternoon, and Hayes made a fine save with his feet from the lively wide man in the 108th minute. Joe McLennan, whose personal duel with Metz had been one of the most absorbing of the game, then hit the post, before Hayes saved again with his feet from one of the Bitton subs.
Just how crucial those saves were was highlighted in the 114th minute, when Consett at last found a way through the Bitton defence. Cornish got the byline at pace and did well to pull the ball back across goal. Calvin Smith came steaming in at the back post to slide the ball home and trigger ecstatic celebrations, both on and off the pitch.
Bitton had more than played their part in a game between two evenly-matched sides, but their players looked shattered when the goal went in, and you couldn’t see them coming back from such a late goal, when the dreaded penalty shootout had looked inevitable.
Consett almost scored a second in the 119th minute when Cornish had an effort half-saved and then cleared off the line, but it didn’t matter, because when the final whistle went seconds later, Consett were going to Wembley!
Consett’s opponents in the final on Sunday 27 September will be Northern League rivals Hebburn Town, who went through on penalties after a 2-2 draw with Kent side Corinthian. Ticket arrangements will be publicised as soon as we get them from the FA.