ROBINS team boss Anthony Woodhouse could not have asked for any more from his lads – they gave their all, and the draw achieved certainly stretched their unbeaten league run to eight games.
At the end though, there was also the reflection that this was two points lost, due perhaps to a combination of facing an inspired goalkeeper, a lack of profligacy in front of goal and an undistinguished performance from the man in the middle.
Shields expected a tough battle against old rivals Birtley, and so it proved but the game was soured by a succession of outrageous challenges on Robins live-wire Dean Holmes which brought three yellow cards to home defenders in just 13 first half minutes but little other punishments from the lenient official.
James Harmison was still unfit, so Neil Baistow came in at the heart of the Shields back-line to partner Dan Bowlt whilst regular custodian Michael Robinson was unavailable so Ryan Beal, who last appeared in thegoalless encounter at Horden WC, again donned the gloves.
Shields opened sprightly and both Paul Watson and hot-shot Keith Douglas weren’t far off the mark with inspired efforts.
Birtley, who had netted seven times without reply in their previous two outings, were in danger of being over-run in the early exchanges with Danny Patterson, revelling in an unfamiliar midfield role for the Robins.
Home keeper Andy Hunter gave indications of his credentials when he somehow managed to touch a Douglas header over the bar after James Luccock had knocked on a Holmes centre to the Shields skipper.
From the resultant corner, Holmes probably felt he could have done better rather than finish wildly, but it wasn’t long before he was being subjected to some rough treatment.
He responded creditably though and, following one free kick given in his favour, Douglas forced Hunter to save only at the second attempt.
Paul Dunn then sent another set-piece scorching past the post though the hosts briefly threatened as a header from centre-half and captain Andrew Grant-Soulsby at the far post looked destined to break the deadlock only for Patterson to clear off the line.
Shields were aggrieved at the lack of action from the officials as the first half ended, but to their credit they just got on with the game and roared into a 56th minute lead.
John Grey’s tantalising cross from the left was met by a Douglas bullet header which Hunter did well to parry but Luccock was lurking to rifle in the loose ball.
Hunter then again thwarted Douglas with yet another breathtaking save, and Grant-Soulsby was fortunate to stay on the field after he should have received a second yellow.
Birtley’s Kevin Dixon lobbed just over as Shields tried to preserve their slender advantage before Holmes was taken out of the firing line to be replaced by Andy Hay. The substitute was soon in the fray.
Six minutes from the whistle, Craig Marron produced a clinical finish from a disputed free kick to level matters which produced a frenetic finale from the Shieldsmen.
Robbie Livermore, back in Robins’ colours, came on to replace the tiring Watson and he, Douglas and Dunn all went so close in goalmouth melees.
Woodhouse heaped praise on his side’s efforts.
North Shields: Beal, Hughes, Grey, Dunn, Baistow, Bowlt, Luccock, Watson (Livermore 85), Holmes (Hay 77), Douglas, Patterson. Subs (not used) Bowman, Wright, Rasmussen. Man of the match, Dean Holmes.
On Saturday, North Shields host Seaham Red Star at the Daren Persson Stadium at Ralph Gardner Park, kick-off 3pm.
Then it’s a double trip to Brandon. On Thursday, October 20, progress in the League Challenge Cup is at stake (7.30pm) with a league clash on Saturday, October 22, (3pm).