The day was all planned out in advance. Parkrun first thing, drop my wife and daughter at my mother-in-laws then off to Coleshill quite early to find a decent parking spot and sample the atmosphere. Arriving in the town at least 90 minutes before kick-off I came across one of the allocated parking areas, a school on Coventry Road, and turned in, to be greeted by a very pleasant and welcoming lady.
At this point let's take a minute to look at what I would like to be the over-riding theme of this blog, the whole match day experience, in particular just how good it was. As I had a birthday party to attend in Oxfordshire after the game I needed to make sure that I could make a quick getaway after the final whistle. I asked the lady at the car park if there was any chance of being blocked in and she replied that she thought it was very unlikely, pointing me to another steward for directions to park. This steward, another cheery person, assured me that they woudl not be blocking anyone in and pointed me to a parking space. A good start. I headed into town to see if Vase fever had hit the locals. The first pub that I came to was heaving with claret and blue, flags everywhere and hundreds of Tynesiders sampling the local brews. Heading further into town I saw that at least 50% of the shops and public buildings were adorned with the blue & white of Coleshill along with various messages of good luck and encouragement for the team. Whilst not exactly Vase fever, the town had certainly taken the team to it's heart.
I headed back out of town towards Pack Meadow, which is situated on a road leading out of Coleshill, on the edge of the open countryside. On arriving at the ground I was also very pleased to see that club officials were standing outside the ground greeting all supporters as they made their way to the turnstile. A very nice touch.
With still more than 45 minutes until kick-off the ground was already starting to fill up. There were plenty of South Shields banners on show and still more Mariners sampling the goods at the beer tent behind one of the stands. I made do with a cup of tea and a browse through the match day programme. Spotting a team sheet being put up in the window of one of the offices I began to mark off the starters on the programme. I'd not got too far before another Coleshill official offered me a copy of the sheet.
It was still almost 30 minutes until kick-off but definitely time to find a good vantage point because the ground was rapidly filling.
The Shields fans that earlier had been outside the pub were now massed behind both goals and in fine voice as the teams were led out onto the artificial surface. Both sides were able to wear their first choice kits, Colehills in white shirts and blue shorts, South Shields in their claret and blue shirts with white shorts.
Predictably the opening minutes of the game were fairly cautious from both sides. No-one wants to give away and early goal in a semi-final. However, it was the home side who made the first big chance on 7 minutes when Josh Quaynor free-kick from the right was tipped over the Shields bar by Liam Connell. In fact, Connell was called into action again a few minutes later and was certainly the busier of the two keepers. South Shields showed some signs of getting their passing game together but, in general, were struggling to get a foothold. Coleshill were opting for a more direct style of play, hitting the front men early, and were certainly creating the better chances.
The pattern continued throughout the opening half-hour. The Mariners threading a few passes together bu them losing out in the final third only to be hit by Coleshill breaks. One such break almost saw Jordan Nadat get on the end of a through-ball but Connell was quick off his line to get there first.
Just after the 30 minute mark Nadat came even closer, curling a delightful shot towards Connells far post but, once again, the Shields stopper was equal to the effort, managing to get a fingertip to it and turn the ball wide.
Just when it looked like the sides would go into the break all square Coleshill finally got the reward for their first-half endeavour when a driven cross from the left was finished off by Nadat. 1-0 with barely time to kick off before the half-time whistle blew.
HT Coleshill Town 1 South Shields 0. A fairly even first half but the majority of chances had gone to the home side and they probably left the field thinking they could have been more than one goal ahead. Shields, despite flashes of great passing play, had been below their best and were most likely glad to hear the whistle.
Best chant of the half had certainly come from the South Shields fans behind the Coleshill goal where shaven-headed and bright, lime green wearing home goalkeeper Paul Hathaway was serenaded with the darts anthem 'Oh, Michael van Gerwen' (to the tune of White Stripes, Seven Nation Army) whenever he had the ball. To his credit, Hathaway seemed to take it in very good humour.
Straight from kick-off in the second half it was clear that Lee Picton and Graham Fenton had had a few choice words to say to their players in the interval. The Mariners straight away looked more lively and it took just two minutes of the second period for them to draw level. Andrew Stephenson's drive was parried by Paul Hathaway in the Colemen goal but first to react was David Foley and he made no mistake in equalising. 1-1.
Shields tails were now up and their passing game was beginning to take hold but, despite this, Coleshill still posed a threat when they did break. Connell was once again called into action just after the hour when he got down smartly to turn away a Tom Weale free-kick.
Then it was Hathaway's turn to show his goalkeeping skills, denying the newly introduced Carl Finnegan with a tremendous one-handed stop when the Shields player was clean through. Coleshill then went up the other end and crashed a shot against Connell's post from way out (couldn't see who hit it from where I was standing).
Michael Richardson then collected a rushed Coleshill clearance and, spotting Hathaway a long way out of his area, tried to return the ball over the keeper from the halfway line but the ball went a yard or two wide of the goal. It was breathless stuff.
Just as in he first half, the second half had a sting in the tail though. As the clock ticked over to 90 minutes a driven effort across the Coleshill six-yard line was diverted into the net by Stephenson. 1-2. It was actually difficult to see who got the final touch but Stephenson seemed to be the one indicating to the bench that it was his goal. Not that it mattered to the delirious massed ranks of Mariners behind Hathaway's goal.
With four minutes of injury time to play The Colemen pushed forward looking for an equaliser but it was all to no avail as the referee drew the first leg to a close.
FT Coleshill Town 1 South Shields 2
Coleshill must have been ruing some of the chances they had in the first half and South Shields certainly have their goalkeeper to thank for keeping them in the game before half-time. However, in the second period, The Mariners performed much better than in the first half and eventually got themselves a slender lead to take back to South Tyneside next weekend. Coleshill certainly made enough chances and performed well enough to suggest that this tie is far from over and, as they say 'It's only half-time'.
Whatever the result, the people of Coleshill should be proud of their club. They put on a superb day for all concerned. The welcome for away fans and neutrals was second to none. It was a great advert for non-league football and I am sure it will be replicated at Mariners Park next Saturday.
Coleshill Town - @coleshilltownfc
South Shields - @southshieldsfc