THE Robins gave it their all in this pulsating clash, but in the end they didn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry.
It was a tough trip. The scheduling of the fixture for a Thursday night in Cumbria was hardly kind to the Anthony Woodhouse’s lads, and their preparations, because of a crash on the A69, were reduced to a quick change and warm-up.
It was a gruelling game in the extreme, with at least four players picking up knocks.
Though Andy Hay’s late leveller from the penalty spot was a boost, securing the Shieldsmen a point, it still felt as if two had been lost.
Whether Gillford Park would show the same commitment against Marske remains to be seen, but the Robins could scarcely have faced more combative opponents.
They had four men booked, plus one sent off.
The character and spirit of the Shieldsmen shone through as they battled back after going a goal down, only to be denied the win they craved by a fantastic goalkeeping performance by Ryan Smith.
The Tynesiders certainly bossed the opening half, knocking the ball about with purpose and direction, but that elusive goal just would not come.
Joe Elliott’s second-minute header from a James Luccock corner went close, then Femi Akinbolu was first to react to a Mark Rasmussen cross, but his effort ended up in the side netting.
Smith’s heroics began when he somehow kept out attempts from Robbie Livermore and Luccock that had goal written all over them, and from one of the resultant corners, Ross Atkinson was thwarted by a goal-line clearance.
Smith tipped over from Jonathan Hall, then Luccock headed a Rasmussen centre over the keeper, only for the ball to be scrambled away.
Shields trooped off at half time shaking their heads, having nothing to show for their dominance, but Park carved out another chance of an opener six minutes after the turnaround, with Michael Reed driving past the upright.
The visitors were rocked only moments later, however, when Stephen Skinner superbly lobbed into the net from some distance.
With the clock ticking over, Luccock’s shot was handled by Gillford’s Ryan Errington, who was then dismissed for swearing at the assistant. He took an age to leave the pitch, but Hay remained cool to dispatch the penalty and set the scene for a frantic onslaught in the closing minutes.
North Shields: Robinson, Douglas (Hay 47), Akinbolu, Luccock, Livermore, Rasmussen (Page 72), Watson, Hall Elliott, Atkinson, Patterson. Subs (not used): Graham, Grey, Cartwright.