NORTH Shields FC climbed the table to reach third place after seeing off the Cumbrian challenge of Whitehaven on Saturday and extend their unbeaten league sequence to 12 matches.
Only leaders Team Northumbria, six points ahead of the Robins having played two games more and Whickham, one point in front from two extra fixtures, keep Anthony Woodhouse’s men off top spot.
After going nap against Ryton and Crawcrook Albion in midweek. Shields still viewed the visit of Whitehaven with some trepidation as the west coast outfit had travelled home with victories under their belts on their three previous trips to Tyneside.
A 2-1 league win and a 5-4 Ernest Armstrong Cup semi-final success in 2009-10 was followed up by a solitary goal victory in the last campaign that put an end to the Robins’ record-breaking 20-match unbeaten run and ultimately saw their promotion prospects plunder.
This time, though, the Shieldsmen, despite being without injured seven-goal striker Dean Holmes, did enough to secure three more precious points with another polished performance.
A 25-yard beauty from James Luccock, adjudged man of the match, on the stroke of half-time was just the boost the Robins needed, and, when substitute Craig Deighton pounced midway through the second period, the Cumbrians’ resistance had crumbled.
Shields almost took an early lead when visiting custodian Stuart Pettit pushed a Paul Gordon effort against the woodwork.
The keeper looked uncomfortable in the early exchanges but still did well to touch drives from Luccock and Gordon behind for corner kicks.
Having survived the initial onslaught, Whitehaven sensed expectations of their own and it took a last-ditch header from Shields defender Danny Bowly to deny Kevin Connolly, then Michael Robinson saved at full stretch from Leigh Dunn.
As the half unwound, the hosts regained the ascendency with Paul Watson and Gordon both rifling over the top, Pettit tipping a Keith Douglas header to safety whilst, when James Harmison powered in a header, it took a desperate goal line clearance to thwart the Shields centre half.
On 38 minutes, though, Woodhouse’s lads breathed a huge sigh of relief when they were caught out by a quick break only for Leigh Dunn to pick up a pass in space, but with just Robinson to beat he slotted past the post.
The action soon returned to the other end with a great ball from Paul Dunn releasing Mark Rasmussen only for Pettit to keep the ball out with a brave block with his legs, then a stretching Watson all but knocked in a cross from John Grey at the far post.
Whitehaven appeared to have done enough to end the half on level terms and there seemed to be little danger when Luccock controlled the bal at some considerable distance out but he advanced to unleash an absolute belter past a stunned keeper to bring the house down.
Two minutes after the turnaround a thunderous effort from the impressive Rasmussen from some 30 yards out all but extended the Robins’ lead but rattled the crossbar.
The visitors spurned two opportunities to level, with Connolly only finding the side-netting when well placed, then Craig Robson just failing to convert as the ball sped across goal.
Gordon thought he had made the points safe for the hosts only for his chip over the keeper to be kicked off the line.
But substitute Deighton was on target, after receiving from Rasmussen, tucking the ball home after Pettit blocked his intial effort.
Deighton was within a whisker of making it three in the last minute but his header from a Luccock cross flashed inches wide.
North Shields: Robinson, Hughes, Grey, Dunn (McAlindon 78), Harmison, Bowly, Rasmussen, Watson (Deighton 67), Luccock, Douglas, Gordon (Patterson 80). Subs not sued: Hay, Livermore.