THE three previous meetings between North Shields and Birtley Town had all ended in draws, so perhaps Saturday’s 2-2 scoreline at Daren Persson Stadium was predictable.
What was served up though between the two promotion hopefuls was an enterprising affair and a decent advertisement for the Northern League.
For Shields it averted a mini-slump, but they could not quite grab that elusive victory to kick start their season once more.
With Team Northumbria and Gillford Park favourites to claim the top two spots, a meagre two-point return from the last 15 on offer has plunged Anthony Woodhouse’s men into battle with the likes of Morpeth, Birtley, Darlington RA, Hebburn and Esh Winning for that desired third place.
On Saturday, ex-Darlington forward Mark Shearan made his first start for the Robins and he certainly impressed, holding the ball up smartly to earn the man of the match rating.
Birtley keeper Andrew Hunter did well to keep out a Kevin Hughes stinger early on before injuring himself in fouling Dean Holme,s though he could take consolation that he was not sent off for the challenge.
His replacement, Neal Bussey, was picking the ball out of the net after 43 minutes when John Grey delivered a sublime strike following an incisive build up.
As the second half unwound, John Martin levelled, Paul Gordon restored the home lead after Shearan’s effort came back off the crossbar, but before the hour mark, Martin again restored parity.
That was to be the end of the scoring, though both sides had loud shouts for spot kicks whilst in the dying seconds substitute Adam Rowntree almost won it for the Shieldsmen, who had Hughes to thank for a goal-line clearance with Birtley’s Ben Johnson blasting wide of a gaping net with the last kick.
Robins assistant boss Andy Bowman said: “I thought we played much better but again we were unable to close a game out when being ahead, which is frustrating.
“The team around us all have some tough matches coming up so they could drop points, we must make sure we capitalise.”
Shields have a number of injuries to check on, particularly those of John Grey, Dean Holmes and Danny Patterson, but Andy Hay and James Luccock should return for the trip to Seaham Red Star on Saturday, (kick-off 3pm).
North Shields: Robinson, Hughes, Grey (Douglas 77), Dunn, Bowlt, Harmison, Gordon, Blandford, Shearan, Holmes (Rowntree 69), Wright. Subs not used: Baistow, McAlindon, Woodhouse.
At Morpeth Town in midweek, Shields keeper Michael Robinson showed his team-mates just how to find the back of the net but his late strike, rifling in a James Luccock corner, came too late to salvage a point.
It was Robinson’s third goal for the club following conversions at Crook Town and against Pickering Town in an FA Vase tie.
Chris Lunn gave Morpeth a ninth minute lead, and whilst Dean Holmes came in for some unsavoury treatment from the Morpeth defence, their back line was once more admirably marshalled by former Robins player of the year David Hiftle.
Shields won a succession of corner kicks in both halves but conceded a second goal on 70 minutes when Jordan Fry bundled the ball home after a free kick cannoned off the bar.
The Robins roused themselves to pound the home goal in the remaining minutes but custodian Steven Mundy excelled in turning aside two stinging drives from Scott Blandford and another from Shields skipper Paul Dunn.
Woodhouse’s team recorded a staggering 21-1 goals aggregate in four meetings with Morpeth last season, but this term his side have gone down three times to Town, and all by the same 2-1 scoreline.
North Shields face an enthralling League Cup tie at Newcastle Benfield on Wednesday, March 14 (7.30pm).
With a place in the quarter-finals at stake, the Robins will gain heart from their only visit to the Sam Smiths Ground in the FA Cup in the early stages of the last campaign.
That ended in an amazing 3-3 scoreline with Shields’ Keith Douglas notching a hat-trick inside the final seven minutes.
The Robins record in the Northern League Cup is unremarkable in recent seasons, having won one match in eight attempts prior to the present run.
Crook Town were dispatched last year 5-2 before the Tynesiders bowed out to league champions Spennymoor Town.
In October, Craig Deighton steered his side past Brandon 2-1, then Michael Robinson broke Darlington RA hearts with two superb saves in a thrilling penalty shoot-out.
Shields did not compete in the competition between 1989-2004 but were beaten finalists in 1980 and 1985.
Jimmy Harmison, whose son James is the current Shields centre-half, was the Robins marksman in the 1985 clash against Whitby Town, which followed a breathtaking 8-4 success in the semi-final at Durham City.
Shields beat Tow Low 2-1 after their Wembley triumph in 1969 to complete a glorious treble, and the last time the Robins have lifted this particular silverware was in 1972 when Bobby Wake and Colin Topping struck in a 2-1 victory over Spennymoor.
The jubilant Shields team was: Mick Morgan, Alan Driver, Tommy Dixon, Bobby Wake, Joe Graham, Ron Tatum, Tony Cassidy, Mick Dagless, Colin Topping, John Downey, John Rutherford with substitute Keith Houghton.