THE Robins displayed great character and no little skill to twice come from behind then leave their visitors floundering with a three-goal blast inside the last seven minutes to beat Darlington RA 5-2.
There were braces apiece for Dean Holmes and substitute Andy Hay whilst North Shields FC skipper Keith Douglas weighed in with his seventh goal of the campaign.
The last time the two sides met was at Brinkburn Road when a superb Hay hat-trick helped the Shieldsmen to a 5-0 romp whilst, in the corresponding fixture on Tyneside, James Luccock came off the bench to notch all the home goals in a 4-1 verdict.
Then the Railwaymen finished in a lowly 15th position but this time they travelled to the Daren Persson Stadium having just been knocked off top spot.
Meanwhile Anthony Woodhouse’s men had made the journey to Horden in early September in bottom place but an unbeaten seven match sequence featuring four victories has seen a welcome climb to mid-table.
John Grey came in for the injured James Harmison as the only change in the starting 11 from that which picked up a point against Whickham in their last outing.
Darlington were first to threaten and a volley from Stephen Cheeseman forced a stunning touch behind from Michael Robinson.
On the 11 minute mark though Robinson had no chance and was picking the ball out of the back of the net when a cross from captain Dale Elgie was turned in by former Northallerton hot-shot Stephen Allison.
Shields tried to respond quickly and when Mark Rasmussen’s precision pass released Paul Watson his thunderous drive had goal written all over it.
However Darlington custodian Philip Pentony had other ideas and produced dazzling reactions to tip the ball away then, from the resultant corner, somehow got a hand to Paul Dunn’s bullet header.
Both keepers were called into action again before the interval with Pentony parrying from Holmes then Robinson doing well to deny Karl Thompson.
Shields’ miserable home record looked destined to continue as they trooped off at half time still trailing but cheers echoed round the stadium eight minutes after the turnaround as Holmes latched onto a Kevin Hughes pass to coolly tuck in the leveller.
However there was lots of debate following two dramatic minutes with the hosts caught out by a free kick taken from the wrong place and Allison credited with a second goal despite a sterling attempt by Dunn to clear the ball off the goal line.
It was an extremely close call from the assistant referee but the Robins were relieved, within seconds, to see a raised flag for offside curtail Darlington claims for another as Danny Bowlt unluckily turned a cross into his own net.
Just after the hour it was all square again following another clinical finish from the nimble Holmes and all to play for.
A Rasmussen long ranger almost deceived Pentony then Bowlt rose to meet a Douglas corner but his header flashed inches wide.
Shields though weren’t to be denied and sent their fans home happy with a rousing finale.
Douglas was on hand to nod in a Holmes centre then Dunn set up a quick response to a Darlington set-piece, finding Douglas who in turn set up Hay to make the points safe.
There was still time for Hay to supply the icing on the cake and complete the nap hand with a rasping finish.
North Shields: Robinson, Hughes, Grey (Luccock 66), Patterson, Bowlt, Dunn, Rasmussen, Watson (Salter 80), Holmes, Douglas, Page (Hay 66). Subs not used: Baistow, Bowman.
Shields’ man of the match was Dean Holmes.
After the game Woodhouse enthused: “That was a solid performance throughout. We took our chances well and could have had more but their keeper excelled.”
On Saturday North Shields head to Birtley Town (3pm) where last season’s encounter ended goalless.
Morpeth Town are the visitors to the Daren Persson Stadium at Ralph Gardner Park on Wednesday, October 12, for a Northumberland Senior Cup tie (7.30pm).
The two clubs met at the same stage of the competition in the last campaign with the Robins ending up 3-0 victors with two strikes from Luccock and another from Douglas.
Morpeth, however, have already defeated the Shieldsmen 2-1 this season and will include in their ranks former Robins Player of the Year David Hiftle, and Phil Cartwright and Stewart Wright, recently released by Woodhouse.