THE Robins’ promotion hopes now hang by a thread after their South Tyneside visitors avenged a 6-1 mauling two month previously.
This was the Shieldsmen’s fifth home league reverse of the campaign – a stark contrast to their stunning away form, which has seen them lose only once, at Whickham.
The players’ commitment has been faultless throughout but in this, their penultimate game of the season, they looked tense and jaded, undoubtedly feeling the effects of their trip to Cumbria less than 48 hours earlier.
That trek took its toll, with two key men ruled out through injury – 40-goal Keith Douglas and defender Danny Patterson, though the former did take up a place on the substitutes’ bench.
Hebburn gave warning of their intentions in the first minute when Tony Stephenson shipped over the bar, then former Shieldsman Dean Nicholson volleyed over.
Visiting custodian Jak Wells had to race from his goal to clear from the onrushing Femi Akinbolu before the Robins went ahead after 23 minutes.
A Mark Rasmussen free kick was met with a glancing header from Akinbolu, which beat the despairing Wells.
Shields looked comfortable enough until, out of the blue, Nicholson unleashed a 25 yarder, then Garry McCarthney’s effort took a deflection to creep into the corner of the net to leave the Robins trailing at the interval.
Immediately on the resumption, Paul Watson all but restored parity, but his fierce drive was touched behind by Wells.
The hosts’ hopes evaporated when Hebburn broke for Stephenson to convert in the 51st minute, and worse was to follow as a cross from Stephen Forster was tapped in by the unmarked McCartney.
Rasmussen and Phil Cartwright both cleared the Hebburn bar, Wells saved from Luccock and Hay was inches wide with a neat curler as the Robins vainly fought to reduce the deficit.
The result left Shields needing Marske United to concede points in their two midweek games to set the scene for a winner-takes-all battle on Saturday.
Whatever Marske’s results, the Cleveland side travel to the Daren Persson Stadium at Ralph Gardner Park for a 3pm kick-off.
North Shields: Pickering, Page, Hall, Livermore, Elliott (Graham 63), Atkinson, Rasmussen, Watson (Douglas 52), Hay, Akinbolu (Cartwright 80), Luccock. Subs (not used): Grey, Robinson.