One step from Wembley. Can 1874 Northwich dare to dream?

Of course. However a challenge to lift the trophy remains formidable.

Only four teams from the North West Counties League – St Helens Town (1987), Colne Dynamoes (1988), Nantwich Town (2006) and Kirkham & Wesham (2008) – have won the FA Vase.

Meanwhile Glossop North End were the most recent representatives in a final three years ago.

Three players on the pitch for Northwich yesterday – Greg Hall, Matthew Russell and Sam Hind – were part of the Hillmen’s squad at Wembley that day.

A line-up for the semi-finals this time around includes bookmakers’ favourites Marske United and Stockton Town, from the Northern League, and Hellenic League side Thatcham.

After progressing through eight stages to get this far, their 1874’s achievement is already remarkable.

A decisive moment

The defining seconds of Saturday’s quarter-final were a microcosm of the 90 minutes.

Leighton wide-man Domenico Marsala lost his composure, as well as his bearings, when he lunged for a ball inside the penalty area that Jake Parker reached before he did.

Referee Simon Borrow had a simple decision to make, and did so instantly.

Scott McGowan, unruffled, struck the resulting spot-kick with power where goalkeeper Tom Wyant had no chance of reaching it.

“Sometimes big games like this one are decided in moments like that,” said 1874 co-manager Wayne Goodison afterwards.

“Scott stayed calm, and it’s helped us to get through.”

Coincidentally, Marsala also spurned the hosts’ best chance when he sliced horribly wide.

Knowing how, and doing it

Much has been made of the experience in 1874’s ranks, not least in this competition.

Three members of their starting line-up have played in an FA Vase final at Wembley while their first substitute, Danny Meadowcroft, played in non-league football’s top-flight earlier in his career.

However know-how is only of value if you call upon it when needed.

Taking the lead when they did, shortly after Alex O’Brien’s speculative effort had stirred the home support, visibly deflated Leighton.

Noses in front, Northwich were canny front-runners.

Meadowcroft’s introduction served to further bolster a defence that was surprisingly untroubled considering the stakes.

Leighton ran out of ideas fast, and it was telling that their followers spent most of the second-half complaining to the match officials about time-wasting.

In praise of Scott McGowan

It’s not easy to follow Michael Brandon and Matthew Beadle.

And yet McGowan has; a decisive goal against Leighton is his 25th of the season, increasing his tally for the club to 47 in 84 appearances.

Leighton’s defenders were terrified of his speed, and one dribble towards the hosts’ goal – which ended with a pass to Taylor Kennerley – saw them backpedalling frantically in the first-half.

His skill-set is different to that of his predecessors, but management duo Paul Bowyer and Wayne Goodison have adjusted the team’s set-up to accommodate that.

On afternoon when glimpses of goal were fleeting, McGowan remained ruthlessly efficient to convert the one chance he did have.

Northwich Guardian:

Scott McGowan celebrates with 1874 Northwich supporters following his side's 1-0 win at Leighton Town in the FA Vase on Saturday. Picture: Ian Dutton

Two more games…at least

With a two-legged semi-final to accommodate in their calendar, 1874 Northwich now have a minimum of 29 games still to play before May 5.

Of those, 25 are league games.

They are currently scheduled to play a half-dozen Premier Division fixtures before the FA Vase resumes, and co-manager Wayne Goodison is targeting a sizeable points return from those.

He said: “We need to park the cup for a couple of weeks and get on a roll. We just need to play games consistently, and see where that takes us.”

Simple arithmetic supports a case that they can challenge for promotion even if logistics, pragmatism – and, of course, the weather – are fair-sized obstacles in their path.