PICKERING Town manager Paul Marshall has praised the club's players and supporters after a 'night to remember' at the Riverside Stadium, writes Ian Appleyard.
The Pikes may not have won the North Riding FA Senior Cup final against Whitby Town but Monday's game provided a unique opportunity for the club's players to perform on a Premier League stage.
It was also a memorable occasion for supporters - with nearly 1,500 making the journey to Middlesbrough and hundreds more watching the game live via the internet.
Midfielder Nick Thompson illuminated the 34,700 capacity venue with a 'wonder goal' to give Pickering a shock halftime lead.
But Whitby, who narrowly missed out on this season's Evo-Stik Northern Premier League play-offs, scored three times in the second half to secure a 3-1 victory.
Marshall said: "We always knew it was going to be a really tough game but, for the first 45 minutes, we got to enjoy the pure joy of taking our club to the Riverside Stadium.
"There were over 500 supporters there from Pickering and to put a smile on so many of those faces made me feel great about what we have achieved. It was a beautiful feeling," he added.
"It is always every player's dream to play at a Premier League ground so I am really pleased that they sampled it for 90 minutes.
"I didn't even realise how I would feel until we were actually down at pitch level - then I started thinking, 'wow, some right managers have stood here!'
"We have had a fantastic season - finishing second in the North Counties East League for only the second time in the club's history and getting 97 points," Marshall reflected.
"It will be hard to replicate that but we will have a few weeks off now and, if we can keep all the players at the club, we will have a chance next season."
Former York City midfielder Thompson broke the deadlock after 32 minutes with a superb right foot shot that curled beyond the reach of Whitby goalkeeper Shane Bland.
Marshall insisted that it was the 'best goal' at the Riverside this season - despite the glittering array of world class strikers who have performed there.
Whitby stormed back as the interval approached but Pikes goalkeeper Toby Wells saved well to deny Steven Snaith.
Luke Bythway, Anthony Hume and Matthew Tymon also missed good opportunities for Whitby as pressure mounted on the Pikes.
The halftime introduction of striker Mikey Roberts for Hume proved a crucial decision by Whitby manager Chris Hardy.
Whitby equalised after 55 minutes when Dale Hopson struck a free kick into the bottom corner of the net.
Roberts then put the Seasiders ahead after 68 minutes when seizing on a defensive mix-up.
Just two minutes later, Roberts scored again with an unstoppable right foot free kick from the left wing to effectively settle the contest.
Afterwards, Whitby manager Hardy said: "We had to show Pickering the utmost respect but, in the end, the class showed through. The lads have now got some silverware for what has been a fantastic season and that is just rewards."
The triumph was Whitby's seventh in the North Riding FA Senior Cup after an absence of several years from the competition.
The Pikes, meanwhile, have now announced their first two friendly fixtures of the summer.
They will visit NCEL division one side Selby Town on Saturday July 8 (2pm) and play a Scarborough XI at Scarborough Rugby Club on Wednesday July 26 (7.30pm).
Pickering Town: Wells, Parker, Bissett (Cooper 75), Chipps, Denton, Tilsley, Thompson (Robinson 69), Birch, Blott, Taylor, Kamara (Dalton 58). Unused substitutes: Dunnett, Ingram.
Whitby Town: Bland, Martin, McWilliams, May, Bythway, Snaith, Gell, Hopson (Fryatt 89), Hume (Roberts 45), Tymon, Weledji (Bell 77). Unused substitutes: Robinson, Dixon