North Shields narrow the gap on leaders

Kevin Hughes heads clear for North Shields in their game against Newcastle Benfield. Picture by Ian Warde.
Kevin Hughes heads clear for North Shields in their game against Newcastle Benfield. Picture by Ian Warde.

North Shields started 2014 with a 6-0 win over Brandon and have remained unbeaten at the Daren Persson Stadium over 12 months, romping to the Second Division Championship along the way.

Now they proudly sit second in the first division on the tails of leaders West Auckland with games in hand.

A total of 53 points have now been banked just past the halfway mark and the lads are still on the Wembley trail.

A majestic strike from Michael McKeown preserved the Robins home record in a 1-1 draw with an impressive Guisborough outfit then victories at Whitley Bay (4-2) and Ashington (2-1) set the Shieldsmen up for a trip to Newcastle Benfield.

Ruled out were the spine of the team – the predatory Gareth Bainbridge, commanding centre back John Parker and Marc Lancaster, who dislocated a finger in the warm up at Ashington.

The versatile Kieran Wrightson though stepped out to make his 100th appearance for the club as Shields sought a third victory over Benfield this campaign.

It turned out another close encounter with the hosts picking up more cards during the 90 minutes than they would have wished despite the festive period.

Benfield defender Shaun Utterson somehow stayed on the pitch following a foul on John Grey but the exchanges were evenly contested with Dean Holmes posing all sorts of problems for the home back line.

Benfield’s Dan Taylor and Shields’ Denver Morris both were unlucky not to get on the scoresheet before Holmes converted a spot kick clinically a minute before the half time break.

Benfield’s Andrew Leason was sent off in the 70th minute for contesting a second penalty award again despatched by Holmes.

Eight minutes from time Washington referee Terry Fletcher, who controlled the game admirably, again had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and this time Paul Brayson reduced the arrears.

Shields though were composed in the closing stages and went close on a number of occasions to adding to their tally.

Full back Stuart Donnison made a welcome return after his injury at Durham City with the hard working Dean Walker and late substitute James Luccock, against his former club, only inches off target.

North Shields: Bannon, Wrightson (Carr 52), Grey, McKeown, Coppen, Hughes, Morris (Luccock 83), Forster, Walker, Richardson (Donnison 66), Holmes. Subs (not used) Smith, Robinson.

• It is the Northern League Match of the Day on Saturday when third placed Marske United travel to the Daren Persson Stadium (3pm).

Shields went down narrowly by 3-2 at Mount Pleasant in September – Gareth Bainbridge and John Parker the Shields marksmen.

Shields are at Morpeth Town on Wednesday, January 7 (7.30pm) and at Crook Town on Saturday, January 10, before entertaining Consett in the FA Vase on Saturday, January 17.