NORTH Shields FC failed to score in a league match for the first time since the opening day of the season.
However despite this goal-less draw, their first since last April at Guisborough Town, the Shieldsmen’s magnificent and record-breaking run continues as does the promotion push.
In the halcyon days of 1968-69 Shields, under the guidance of Frank Brennan, boasted a proud sequence of 16 wins and a draw in their last 17 league matches to clinch the Northern League title on the final day of the campaign.
Those results were 1-0 (home v Whitby Town); 5-3 (away v Durham City); 3-0 (home v Shildon); 2-0 (home v Penrith) then came the Wembley triumph and a remarkable 13 unbeaten games played in just 26 days – 2-0 (away v Ferryhill); 2-0 (away v Willington); 1-0 (away v Shildon); 8-0 (home v South Bank – Brian Joicey bagged six); 8-0 (home v Willington – Tommy Orrick four); 6-0 (away v Spennymoor; 1-1 (away v Blyth Spartans); 4-2 (home v Tow Law); 4-1 (home v Spennymoor); 4-1 (away v Stanley United); 3-0 (home v Durham City); 3-0 (home v Billingham) and 4-1 (away v Whitby Town).
To beat that the present day Robins have had to pull out all the stops and the string of results started at home to Chester-le-Street (2-1), then came 1-0 (home v Gillford Park); 4-1 (home v Darlington RA (James Luccock four as a substitute); 2-2 (home v Birtley); 1-1 (away v Thornaby); 1-0 (home v Whickham); 3-1 (away v Guisborough); 2-1 (away v Team Northumbria); 3-2 (away v Crook Town); 1-1 (away v Newton Aycliffe); 4-1 (home v Morpeth); 2-0 (home v Horden CW); 5-0 (away v Darlington RA (Andy Hay three); 7-1 (home v Washington (Keith Douglas three); 1-0 (home v Team Northumbria); 4-0 (away v Chester-le-Street); 6-1 (away v Hebburn) and 0-0 (away v Birtley).
Birtley don’t quite hold the Indian sign over the Robins that Norton and Stockton do but they have posed problems for the Shieldsmen in recent years, and Anthony Woodhouse’s lads were grateful to see Michael Pattison tuck away a last minute penalty when the sides met at the Daren Persson Stadium in October to share the points.
Shields signed Lee Picton from Whitley Bay before the game to begin his second spell at the club and he came straight in alongside debutant goalkeeper Craig Pickering, who has been turning out for Morpeth Town, whilst 17-year-old central midfielder Ryan Page from Newcastle United was introduced as a second half substitute.
With Michael Robinson and Matty Hunter still injured and Jake Cunningham on the Blyth bench, Pickering became Shields’ fourth keeper in as many matches and went on to earn man of the match ratings.
Danny Regan, who kept a clean sheet in two of the three games he represented the Robins in 2008 during Dave Lanning’s absence, was also to enjoy an inspirational 90 minutes between the Birtley posts.
Shields pressed from the off and Keith Douglas was only inches wide with a neat turn and shot then Regan was called into action, tipping behind a free kick from the Robins’ skipper.
Picton made his presence felt, winning a couple of towering headers but Chris Tait could have done better with an early opportunity for the hosts, dragging his shot wide.
On a ‘dead’ pitch but one perfectly playable despite the wet weather the Robins normally fluent football was somewhat stifled but they still kept Regan busy and he twice touched behind efforts from James Luccock and another goalbound drive from Andy Hay.
Birtley weren’t content to just sit back, and Pickering had to be alert to hold a Shaun McAvoy header and watch Andrew Grant-Soulsby nod powerfully just over the bar whilst Picton raced to boot off the line after McAvoy rounded the keeper.
Shields pressed in the hope of breaking the deadlock as the second half unwound and Jon Hall’s header took a deflection on its way behind then Hay did find the net only for the strike to be mysteriously ruled out.
That was a moment of controversy then Regan broke Shields hearts with a superb save from Luccock at point blank range whilst Page twice went close with long range drives. Regan kept out a Hay header then a Mark Rasmussen rasper with his legs but the Robins were relieved not to concede in the closing stages as Birtley forced a succession of corner kicks, Pickering had to make a brilliant double save whilst substitute Nathan Hepurker wasted an opportunity with a wild finish following a fine break.
North Shields: Pickering, Hall, Patterson, Livermore (Atkinson 86), Akinbolu, Picton, Luccock, Rasmussen, Hay, Douglas (Bowman 73), Pattison (Page 46). Subs not used: S Robinson, Graham.
On Saturday North Shields host Thornaby, 3pm, then Seaham Red Star on Tuesday, 7.30pm, March 1.