Super Sholing’s March to the Arch has reached its final destination.
Dave Diaper’s Boatmen have become the fourth Sydenhams Wessex League side to reach the FA Vase final thanks to an imperious first half performance at Eastbourne United this afternoon.
Having been held 2-2 at home, Sholing came racing out of the blocks to go 3-0 up at half-time in front of a 1,426 crowd in East Sussex.
United were a different proposition in the second half, pulling the game back to 3-2, but the Southampton side rode the storm and scored a late goal through sub Nick Watts to book their trip to North London on May 10.
Both teams made changes from last Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Portsmouth Road.
Sholing boss Dave Diaper opted for the energy of Mike Carter in midfield and put Tyronne Bowers at right-back.
Alex Sawyer also came into the midfield equation at the expense of Lewis Fennemore, while powerhouse skipper Byron Mason joined Lee Wort up front.
The good news for the Boatmen was that Eastbourne frontman Ryan McBride – scorer of their second goal last week – was suspended.
Dual-signed Horsham striker Ashley Robinson replaced him and the gritty Jamie Crellin came into midfield.
Sholing began busily and, with Marvin McLean again looking lively down the left, Carter shot over inside the first two minutes.
The Boatmen continued to make the running, forcing two corners in quick succession in the ninth minute.
The first, swung in from the right by Marc Diaper, was headed out for another by the under-pressure home defence.
This time Bowers delivered from the left and, under pressure from Diaper, Joe Dryer headed into his own goal.
Manager Diaper appeared to have got his tactics spot-on as Sholing’s wealth of attacking options caused Eastbourne no end of problems.
The home side hacked the ball clear from inside the six-yard box following more good work by McLean and the two Mason brothers, and then Wort played in McLean down the left and the sprightly winger eased past his marker on the by-line before getting too much power on his shot across goal.
Following another Sholing corner, Wort then set up Bowers who completely missed his shot.
But that was about the only cheery sight for the home fans, who were thanking their lucky stars on 20 minutes when Byron Mason delivered from the right, teeing up Sawyer who turned sharply on the edge of the box and fired just wide.
Sawyer, who was frequently darting forward from midfield, then unleashed another effort straight at the keeper.
It was his fellow midfielder Carter who gave the Boatmen an all-important second goal on 26 minutes.
Diaper took a throw from the left and, following good work by Byron Mason and Wort, the ball came to CARTER 20 yards out.
He eased past one defender, made space for himself and beat keeper Grant Young with a firm, low drive.
Eastbourne made a half-hearted appeal for a penalty when Pete Castle backed into Matt MacLean, but it was clutching at straws by United who, thus far, were being totally outplayed by the Wessex visitors.
Such was Sholing’s dominance that it looked to be a matter of how many they would score and, but for a fine save by Young, Wort would have added a third on 34 minutes from skipper Byron Mason’s assist.
There was a brief flurry of Eastbourne activity in the 36th minute, but visiting keeper Matt Brown did well to pick Robinson’s delivery out of the air before hard-working winger McLean helped out with a superbly timed defensive tackle.
But Sholing responded in positive fashion and, on 41 minutes, the buoyant Boatmen made it 3-0.
First Barry Mason had a goal-bound effort cleared after unleashing an audacious volley from the edge of the box.
Eastbourne failed to clear the danger and this time brother BYRON MASON obliged by finding the far bottom corner with a first-time dig from the right of the area.
United brought on attacking substitute Jason Taylor for left-back Scott Dartnall at half-time and their re-jigged side emerged far hungrier for the second half.
The home side were furious six minutes in when Sholing keeper Matt Brown came to punch the ball, clattering into Taylor in the process, but no penalty was given.
The Eastbourne sub – playing his first game since December following a broken leg – was so incensed that he talked his way into the referee’s notebook.
That just seemed to make United even more determined and, after Tate had had an effort cleared off the line, they continued to bombard the Sholing box and pulled a goal back on 57 minutes.
Tate delivered the ball from the right, Jack Divall nodded back across goal and MacLEAN buried the header to make it 3-1.
Sholing responded with Carter playing in Barry Mason, but Young was sharply off his line to save at his feet.
With Eastbourne battling for every ball, it was important for the Boatmen to match them physically.
Barry Mason played his part by earning a 65th-minute free kick, but Pete Castle’s header from Diaper’s delivery was disallowed for offside.
Eastbourne, though, simply refused to lie down and rocked Sholing’s boat with a second goal on 68 minutes.
Carter tripped sub Taylor as he jinked left to right across the edge of the Sholing area.
The danger looked to have been snuffed out when Robinson kicked the free kick into Sholing’s defensive wall.
But the ball fell to Tate who hit a fearsome low shot from the edge of the box which Brown couldn’t hold and CRELLIN was there to bury the loose ball.
Sholing made a double substitution with 12 nail-biting minutes remaining – first the injured Sawyer hobbling off to be replaced by Lewis Fennemore and then Nick Watts going on for Barry Mason.
For Eastbourne, Luke Denton replaced Joe Dryer.
All those stoppages worked in Sholing’s favour initially, but United quickly stepped up the pace again, bombarding the Boatmen’s box with a succession of high balls and making life as uncomfortable as possible for keeper Brown.
There was a close call on 88 minutes when Jack Divall shot wide from distance.
But, from living on their nerves, Sholing’s vocal band of Ultras supporters were in full cry in the 89th minute when sub Watts made the game safe.
Watts initiated the move, finding Fennemore on the right. He looked up and crossed for Wort whose shot was blocked at close quarters.
But the ball ran free to WATTS, who took a touch before burying the ball right-footed to seal Sholing’s passage to Wembley.