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Moors ensure Vase stays in North-East
The North-East's stranglehold on the FA Vase continues.
It's taken up residency in the region over the past five years, Whitley Bay winning it for three years, then Dunston UTS last season and now it's Spennymoor Town's turn to bask in the glory of being Wembley winners.
Thoroughly deserving Vase victors they were too, having being on top for the bulk of Saturday's 2-1 win over Tunbridge Wells.
They spurned enough chances to have put the game out of sight well before Keith Graydon scored the winner ten minutes from time, ensuring he will be afforded hero status.
The same applies to his team-mates, including one very significant member of the squad who was unable to play, but had a vital role.
Captain Daniel Moore had been set to take his usual spot at the heart of defence. But nine days before the game he suffered a broken ankle, a devastating blow to the team and Moore. nicknamed Bobby, not only because of his name, but also due to him being an inspirational leader.
Out of action he may have been but Moore remained influential, and on Friday evening had his team-mates in tears with an emotional team-talk with a difference. Then on Saturday, despite being suited and booted, he cast aside his crutches to march the team out on to the pitch, though it was more of a hobble than a march.
Manager Jason Ainsley was determined that Moore would remain involved.
"We're all gutted for Bobby, but he's played a massive part off the pitch over the last couple of weeks," said Ainsley.
"He deserves every credit. It wouldn't be right if he hadn't led the team out. All the players wanted Bobby to lead the team and I was no different. He played an instrumental part in this victory.
"We had a team meeting last night and he had us all in tears. He couldn't actually talk to us, so he put on a DVD of the speech he had given to camera and we all went away emotional wrecks. It was heart-wrenching for the players because he was devastated to miss out, but he didn't let it get to him.
"The DVD was a montage of people like Steven Harper, Jason Steele, Ant and Dec all saying good luck, and then there was Daniel at his house doing a speech, saying he wants us to do well for him and the team otherwise one of his crutches would be going around someone's head!
"He missed out on the field but he didn't miss out on being a winner."
Chris Mason took the captaincy, capping a remarkable week for the centre-back who took to the field as a new dad.
Perhaps young Fredrick "Freddie" Mason will have a shiny new medal to play with after Spennymoor enjoyed a win more convincing than the scoreline suggests.
Aside from a bright opening by Tunbridge Wells, who forced Moors keeper Robbie Dean into an early save from a Josh Stanford shot, the Kent League side were second best throughout.
Ainsley's side were strong favourites and a convincing win looked likely when they went ahead in the 18th minute.
Graydon swung the ball over to the far post where Gavin Cogdon, one of the smallest players on the pitch, had escaped the Tunbridge Wells defence to head home.
Cogdon, a gym instructor by day, celebrated with a trademark handstand, performed directly in front of the Tunbridge Wells fans.
It resulted in him being regularly booed by the estimated 12,000 fans supporting the Kent club, who helped ensure there were more present for the Vase final than there were for yesterday's Conference play-off final between Newport and Wrexham.
Tunbridge may have outnumbered the estimated 4,500 Spennymoor contingent, but they had a considerably shorter distance to travel and were also considerably quieter for much of the day, partly thanks to Cogdon's goal.
It was his 11th goal of the Vase run and he would have had a 12th were it not for a heavy touch when put through one-on-one.
Ainsley admitted: "Gavin's a massive asset and I don't think he realises how good he is at times. He's an enigma. He goes past players for fun and he shouldn't be playing at this level.
"He's been with us for a long time, he's a loyal person, and it's only right that he had the chance to showcase his talents in the FA Vase final."
Also showcasing their talents were Graydon and Lewis Dodds in centre midfield.
The pair, each with Sunderland as teenagers, were quick on the ball and possessed an array of passes that instigated attacks, while on the flanks the pacy Wayne Phillips and Joe Walton were menacing.
Moors deserved to lead, but failed to take numerous chances. Mark Davison came closest, seeing a curling shot pushed wide by Chris Oladogba, and the pattern continued in the second half.
Oladogba denied Cogdon, who had turned in the penalty area, but the profligacy proved costly.
A weak punch by Moors' keeper led to the equaliser on 78 minutes by Stanford.
He showed composure to volley into an empty net, which was the cue for an eruption of noise from the Tunbridge supporters, who had been quiet for most of the second half.
Less than two minutes later, though, they were silenced again.
Moors' Andrew Stephenson had seen a shot blocked, so played the ball back for Graydon, who rammed the ball home first-time to become Spennymoor's match-winner.
"We missed a lot of chances. We played a lot of good stuff but didn't have a cutting edge, so when we're 1-0 up it can bite you and it did," said Ainsley.
"Maybe we could have defended it a little better, but we scored again at a good time, straight after their equaliser, which took the sting out of their tail and stopped it going to extra time, which could have been a lottery."
Tunbridge boss Martin Larkin admitted Moors were the better side.
He said. "We grew into the second half. It wasn't exactly a beautiful goal we scored, but it was deserved for the way we were staying in the game.
"We knew from the start that we would be up against it because Spennymoor are an unbelievable team for this level and if we're all being honest, they deserved to win."
On Graydon's goal, he added: "That's the difference. In the Kent League, we would either have cleared it or the player would've sliced it."
For Ainsley, the success completes a non-league double, having previously won the Northern League title on three occasions. He added: "This club is evolving.
"I don't know what's next, but this is a massive point in my career.
"The FA Vase has been the Holy Grail for Spennymoor and myself. To take it back up there where it's been for four years is a great honour."
So what next?
"I'm just waiting to see if Tony Mowbray gets sacked!"
After full-time, Moore limped up the steps to lift the Vase with Mason.
Moore will have preferred to have been an influence on the pitch, but, in the circumstances, it was the appropriate ending to Spennymoor's perfect day.