North Shields dug deep to salvage a point on Saturday afternoon, coming from behind to share the spoils with in-form Bishop Auckland at the Daren Persson Stadium.
The tightly-contested match proved to be a tale of two rebounds, Bish’s Scott McCarthy and Robins counterpart Lee Mason both finding the net in somewhat fortuitous circumstances.
The Two Blues were unbeaten in seven games prior to their Tyneside visit, but their hosts had enjoyed a rich vein of form themselves, losing just three times in 2016.
The Robins bounced back from the derby disappointment at Whitley Bay with a comprehensive League Cup win at Bedlington Terriers, and manager Graham Fenton fielded another strong line-up three days later, the suspended Gary Ormston the only notable absentee.
Both sides started the game in tentative fashion, Shields blocking an Andrew Johnson free kick before Mason drilled across goal at the other end.
The visitors were enjoying early success down the right flank, a dangerous run and cross from full back Stuart Thompson hacked away from the six-yard box, and it was a counter down that channel which produced the game’s opening goal.
An early through ball sent Scott McCarthy streaking beyond Jordan Summerly, the Bishop Auckland attacker cutting inside and driving towards goal.
Sean McCafferty raced out to meet the forward and produced a fine save at his feet, but the ball rebounded off the keeper’s gloves and back onto McCarthy, the ball bobbling across the line despite Jack Donnison’s best efforts to keep it out.
Shields continued to play their passing game as they searched for an equaliser but chances remained scarce.
The visitors’ centre-half pairing of Arjun Purewal and Ross Colquhoun kept Gareth Bainbridge and Daniel Wilson from catching a clear sight of goal in the opening thirty minutes, while Priestly Griffiths screened effectively in front of the back four.
Bainbridge could have won his side a penalty in the 32nd minute, Fred Woodhouse’s clumsy barge through the back unpunished by the referee.
Peter Glen-Ravenhill skewed well over minutes later, but parity was restored from the opposite flank on 37 minutes.
A powerful run from Wilson had the defence retreating back towards their goal, the striker muscling past Michael Hoganson on the left and looping a delivery off the frame of the goal.
In the ensuing chaos, Bainbridge’s challenge prevented keeper Edward Wilczynski from clearing adequately, allowing the ball to drop to Lee Mason six yards out. Much like McCarthy’s opener, Mason saw his shot blocked by Colquhoun at close range, but the ball cannoned off his midriff and into the net.
Wilson played an integral part again in Shields’ next move, combining his trademark hold-up play with a neat pullback into the path of Summerly. The full back surged in from the left and made a beeline for goal, but the tame effort was easily snaffled by the goalkeeper.
The away side went even closer to snatching the lead before half-time, another fizzing Thompson delivery wastefully poked off target by McCarthy.
The County Durham outfit started the second half brightly, Sam Orritt a nuisance on the right and Johnson badly miscuing a header. Auckland veteran Jeff Smith – fantastic all afternoon – and number nine Johnson worked the ball across the box from right to left, where McCarthy curled well wide, but the Two Blues did not make good on their dominance, failing to trouble McCafferty for much of the half.
Bishop Auckland’s Ian Ward saw spurious penalty appeals against Curtis Coppen dismissed, and headed a set piece well wide moments later.
Shields had introduced fresh blood of their own, Jack Devlin making his debut after joining from Easington Colliery last week, but it was fellow sub Ryan Carr who almost had the desired impact on the game, firing Ben Richardson’s layoff narrowly past the angle.
Fenton’s charges briefly threatened to snatch all three points, Ryan McGorrigan shooting wide and a potential back pass from Hoganson unsighted by the officials.
However, it was the visitors who looked the more likely to claim late victory thereafter, Griffiths shooting straight at McCafferty from 20 yards and an Orritt effort blocked by a red shirt.
McCafferty had to tip away another deflection in stoppage time, Daniel Lambert’s cross inadvertently diverted towards goal by Michael McKeown, but the Robins held on to claim a hard-fought point.
Highlights from Saturday’s game can be viewed on NSFCTV at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsU40TZaAk4
North Shields will be back in action at Woodhorn Lane on Tuesday evening, Steve Harmison’s Ashington the hosts, before entertaining Norton and Stockton Ancients on Thursday evening.
North Shields: McCafferty, Donnison, Summerly, McKeown, Coppen, Hughes, Glen-Ravenhill, Richardson, Bainbridge (McGorrigan), Wilson (Devlin), Mason (Carr).