North Shields upset the odds to lift the NFA Senior Cup on Wednesday evening, Ryan Carr’s last-gasp winner putting Blyth Spartans to the sword in a breathtaking 4-3 victory at St James’ Park.
A rollercoaster final saw the lead change three times over the course of 90 minutes, but it was Carr’s fine strike in stoppage time which clinched the trophy for the Robins - their third piece of silverware in as many years.
A crowd of almost 2,500 greeted the two teams at the home of Newcastle United, and all in attendance were treated to a spectacle wholly befitting of a cup final.
Shields headed into the tie on the back of a recent shoot-out defeat to Shildon in the League Cup semi-final, while the Spartans were also looking to bounce after missing out on promotion to the Conference North.
Both signalled their attacking intent early doors, with Shields’ Carr not far from reaching a dangerous Gareth Bainbridge ball across the box.
However, Spartans were first to truly go close through Robbie Dale. Afforded space 25 yards out, the club legend drifted in from the left and unleashed a curling strike towards goal which rattled the crossbar.
North Shields went one better in the 11th minute. Ben Richardson sent Carr in behind the defence, and his cross from the byline found Gary Ormston 18 yards out. The former Dunston midfielder, the very image of composure, swept the ball into the far corner beyond the reach of Spartans goalkeeper Adam McHugh.
Having gained the early advantage, the Robins were forced to absorb increasing pressure from their Northumberland opponents as the half progressed.
Michael Richardson was denied by Chris Bannon’s firm parry either side of narrowly wayward efforts from Sean Reid and Alex Nicholson.
The Shields stopper was called into action twice more, first pushing away a one-on-one from full back Jordan Watson before getting hands to Dale’s goalbound free kick.
At the other end, Bainbridge almost connected with Richardson’s astute pass, but Blyth Spartans had assumed control, spraying passes at will and dominating the possession stakes.
Nevertheless, it would take a set-piece on the half hour mark to break down Shields’ resolve, Matthew Wade’s header back into the area diverted into the net by Damen Mullen.
Blyth remained on the front foot, forcing Shields to retreat into their own half, and that pressure would tell once again in the 38th minute.
After some intricate passing play between Wade and Dale, the ball was fed into the path of Reid, the rangy midfielder drilling low past Bannon from 20 yards.
It could have been three for Spartans before the break had Dan Maguire not caught Nicholson’s superb cross under his feet at the back post.
But the Robins rallied in the closing minutes and went close to restoring parity. Dogged harrying from Bainbridge yielded possession on the edge of Blyth’s area and the ball was worked into the path of Lee Mason, with the ex-Whitby man whiskers away from finding the back of the net.
That positive spell stood Shields in good stead ahead of the second half. Backed by their typically enthusiastic support, the rejuvenated Tynesiders shocked Blyth within three minutes of the restart.
Mason was involved again, providing the pass that sent Jordan Summerly towards goal. Faced with a narrow shooting angle, the full back instead squared the ball for Bainbridge, arriving in the six-yard box to poke Shields level.
Summerly himself almost put his side ahead three minutes later, beating McHugh to an aerial 50-50, but the tame header was promptly cleared by Mullen.
Dale threatened again, a trademark set-piece whistling past the angle, but the game’s fifth goal was a moment of pure magic from North Shields’ own talisman.
Man-of-the-match John Parker picked out Bainbridge with a raking cross-field pass, sending the marksman in behind full back Nicholson. Shields’ top scorer took a deft touch on his chest and looped a magnificent strike over the head of McHugh, the ball finding the net via the underside of the bar.
Spartans boss Tom Wade rung the changes in direct response to the goal, making three switches in the space of eight minutes, and the gamble almost paid off when a clearance rebounded kindly off substitute Wilson Kneeshaw. With only the keeper to beat, Kneeshaw looked odds on to score, but Bannon produced another strong parry to keep Blyth at bay.
Ormston and Curtis Coppen had controlled the midfield for much of the second half, effectively reining in Dale and Richardson. However, the former found room to manouvre in the 77th minute, floating an exquisite pass into the path of Neal Hooks. The former Spennymoor Town playmaker, another fresh introduction from the bench, lashed the ball into the top corner to once again cancel out Shields’ lead.
With the game on a knife edge, Michael Richardson twice set his sights on goal, firing one effort onto the roof of the net and seeing another comfortably gathered by Bannon.
The game looked to be heading for extra time until a final attack from Shields in the third minute of injury time settled the tie once and for all.
Summerly was again the architect, collecting a pass from Dean Holmes and driving inside to feed Carr on the edge of the area. The tireless midfielder, operating behind the striker since Holmes’ half-time introduction, took a touch to set himself before curling a perfect finish high into the top corner, sparking pandemonium on and off the field.
The Robins comfortably wound down the remaining seconds, and Kevin Hughes lifted the cup for the 13th time in the club’s history.
Blyth Spartans: McHugh, Nicholson (Cartwright), Watson, Parker, Buddle, Mullen, M. Richardson, Reid (Kneeshaw), Maguire, Wade (Hooks), Dale.
North Shields: Bannon, Donnison, Summerly, Coppen, Parker, Hughes, Mason (McGorrigan), Ormston, Bainbridge (Brooking), B. Richardson (Holmes), Carr.