GOALKEEPER Michael Robinson was the Robins’ hero with a quite brilliant penalty save as the Shieldsmen bounced back from two successive home defeats to earn a point against their fellow promotion chasers.
Robinson, who kept out two Darlington spot-kicks to book his side a place in the next round of the Northern League Cup during a dramatic penalty shoot-out starred again to record a ‘treble’ of ‘saves’ against the Railwaymen this campaign.
Shields continue to perform better on their travels and so far have won seven and only lost once in 13 away matches.
“Awesome” was how team boss Anthony Woodhouse had described his side’s display in their last away fixture at Hebburn, a 2-0 success with Woodhouse guiding his men through from the centre-half position and watching Dean Holmes and Andy Hay notch the decisive goals.
This time at Brinkburn Road Woodhouse viewed from the dug-out before declaring: “We were so unlucky, nothing dropped for us.
“Injuries have conspired against us again especially that of Paul Watson – had he not been carried off I’m sure we would have hung on.”
The Tynesiders looked crest-fallen when the hosts were awarded a 62nd minute penalty but Robinson boosted spirits by thwarting Graham Whitehead then the battling Shieldsmen rocked Darlington as Scott Blandford converted James Luccock’s corner kick with 17 minutes remaining.
Blandford then suffered a shoulder injury but bravely returned to the field after treatment as all three substitutes had been used but with Watson stretchered off Shields had to play out for the final 12 minutes with ten men.
Just into stoppage time their resistance was broken by Fred Huscroft’s sweet strike that gave Robinson no chance.
Shields had begun the match showing a number of changes with Kevin Hughes returning at right back and Blandford, Hay and Keith Douglas all back in the starting 11 with Mark Rasmussen and James Harmison both ruled out after hobbling off against Crook.
On a poor playing surface Darlington keeper Lee Hutton saved early from John Grey and Hay then a Hughes pile-driver was deflected over and Paul Dunn rifled inches wide.
At the other end Robinson was tested by Louis Whensley’s effort but generally Shields looked the most likely side to break the deadlock.
On the turnaround Hutton clung on to a Blandford drive then a raised assistant’s flag stunned Hay who had raced clear past two defenders.
Midfielder Scott Blandford’s fifth goal for the club since signing from Consett could well have been the match winner with Darlington’s late leveller cruel on Woodhouse’s lads.
North Shields: Robinson, Hughes, Grey, McAlindon (Watson 55 mins), Bowlt, Dunn, Blandford, Holmes, Rowntree (Shearan 68 mins), Douglas (Luccock 55 mins), Hay. Subs not used: Wright, Gordon.
n Shields were twice in the lead midweek at home to Crook Town but trooped off on the wrong end of a 4-2 scoreline.
Adam Rowntree celebrated his debut with an eighth minute strike but the kamikaze defending started soon after.
John Toft equalised midway through the first period, shooting past stand-in custodian Ryan Beal.
Dean Holmes coolly restored the advantage from the spot after Luccock was upended but it was all square again when Beal was unable to hold onto Paul Dunn’s ill-advised back header and Crook skipper Richard Hodgson profited.
Robbie Bird nipped in to punish more hesitancy at the back with Hodgson adding a fourth at the death to leave the Robins deflated.
North Shields host Birtley Town on Saturday, kick off 3pm at the Daren Persson Stadium at Ralph Gardner Park.
Birtley have now joined the promotion pack, the three previous meetings between these two rivals have all ended in draws.
On Wednesday, March 7, Northallerton Town visit Tyneside for the third time this season when a place in the semi-final of the Ernest Armstrong Trophy is at stake (7.45pm kick-off).
Northallerton progressed in the FA Vase with a 3-1 verdict but the Shieldsmen exacted revenge, winning 2-0 in a league clash.