WHAT a match and what a performance from Graham Fenton’s North Shields side as they beat Morpeth Town with a truly dramatic finale.
A last gasp goal from live wire Dean Holmes secured three points for the Robins in what felt like a cup final victory.
Morpeth included a number of ex-Shieldsmen in their line-up, notably two former Robins player of the year David Hiftle and Paul Dunn, and the 90-plus minutes that ensued were compelling.
Sadly it now looks like both outfits, who deserve to parade their talents on the first division stage, will be battling it out for fourth position.
The atmosphere was electric even though chances were at a premium in the first period.
That’s only half the story, however, with home keeper Jak Wells spilling a Keith Douglas free kick but atoning by blocking the follow up from Holmes.
Shields took a 55th minute lead when Adam Rowntree produced a piece of magic on the right flank and Douglas despatched the centre with aplomb.
Robins keeper Sean McCafferty excelled with a fantastic full-length save but Michael Hall’s drive restored parity by the 64th minute.
Shields soaked up the host’s pressure with man of the match McCafferty well protected by his back-line but the Robins threatened themselves with Stewart Wright setting up substitute Rob Nolan but the side’s top marksman dragged his shot wide.
As the clock ticked over the exchanges became tension fuelled but surely the points would be shared.
Not so, deep into stoppage time Kevin Hughes nodded a free kick into the middle, Holmes superbly chested the ball down before blasting in a beauty to leave Morpeth devastated and spark wild celebrations in the Robins camp.
North Shields: McCafferty, Wrightson (Hall 72), Patterson, Richardson, Hughes, Elliott, Rowntree, Forster (Grey 35), Wright, Douglas (Nolan 67), Holmes. Subs (not used): McCabe, Bradley.
It goes without saying that it would be a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show three days later.
Centre forward Ben Bonner was allowed a free 73rd minute header from a corner to poach a win for visitors Stokesley at the Daren Persson Stadium on Saturday.
The North Yorkshire side, although defensively orientated, looked a decent outfit and avenged a 1-0 home reverse back in November.
Dean Holmes set up Rob Nolan to convert in the 37th minute but a late offside flag ruled that one out then Nolan felt aggrieved at having two genuine penalty appeals turned down as referee Gary McMullan angered the home supporters.
Team boss Graham Fenton reflected: “We’ve given it a great go – what a night at Morpeth – but our inconsistency has come back to haunt us.
“It was disappointing to lose to a goal from a set-piece but overall, against Stokesley, our only spark was from Dean Holmes and we created little for the front lads to feed off.
“We’ve lost the spine of our team through injuries – an entire midfield ruled out – Adam Forster, Ben Richardson, Michael McKeown and Paul Watson – are all struggling with knocks as are centre-half king pin James Harmison and keeper Michael Robinson.
“Still we’ve the best defensive record in the division – there’s plenty points still to play for and we aim to finish the season on a high.”