Shields again fail to win on opening day

A SUPERB 75th minute strike from substitute Andy Hay looked destined to rid the Robins of an unwanted statistic.

For Shields have not won an opening day fixture since their return to the Northern League in 2004, losing to Seaham Red Star, Consett, Guisborough, Ryton, Stokesley and last season 0-3 to Newton Aycliffe with only a 2-2 draw at Washington squeezed in.

The north Northumbrians fired up for their debut back in the competition and, under the joint managership of former Shields striker Steve Gibbard, battled back to earn a point thanks to an 82nd minute equaliser.

Robins team boss Anthony Woodhouse declared afterwards: “We huffed and puffed but didn’t play particularly well and a draw was probably a fair result.” Then quipped: “At least we’re a point better off than we were at this stage last season.”

Mark Rasmussen and Stewart Wright were both unavailable for this encounter with front-runner Paul Gordon ruled out through injury but league debuts were handed to keeper Ryan Beal, deputising for Michael Robinson, central defender Kevin Hughes, signed from West Allotment Celtic, and former Cullercoats striker Craig Deighton.

The prolific Keith Douglas was first to threaten with a fine effort from distance that wasn’t far wide then Deighton drove over the bar.

There was a spot of confusion for the officials when, following a break in play, a punt upfield by Douglas sailed past the home keeper.

Had that ‘goal’ stood however then the hosts would have been gifted an immediate leveller, Shields having been involved in a similar incident at Crook a number of years ago.

With Player of the Year Danny Patterson prominent in surges upfield the Robins bossed proceedings without looking totally convincing in a first half devoid of serious goalmouth action though both Paul Watson and Patterson drew applause with long range attempts.

Alnwick looked a different proposition on the turnaround and Scott McMullen cracked a shot just past the upright before Shields introduced all three substitutes by the 56 minute mark.

Only brave defending by Joe Elliott kept his side afloat after Beal had parried from Benedict Keenan then McMullen went close with another effort.

As the second period passed its mid-point Andy Wright was beginning to exert his influence down the left flank and, with Hay holding the ball up well, Shields pressed in a bid to break the deadlock.

Wright was receiving some rough treatment from the home defenders but the ex-Blyth Spartan winger still managed to get over a stream of teasing crosses but it was a moment of individual brilliance from Hay, who curled in a beauty, that put the Robins firmly in the driving seat.

James Luccock drove inches over as the Shieldsmen searched for a second goal to make the points safe but they were rocked when Adam Shanks profited from a defensive misunderstanding to drill in from an acute angle.

Wright and Douglas both had goalbound shots desperately blocked but Shields could easily have come away with nothing in the end had Beal not parried from James Swordy whilst the hosts had penalty shouts brushed aside in stoppage time.

North Shields: Beal, Hall, Patterson, Livermore, Elliott, Hughes, Cartwright (A Wright 56), Watson, Deighton (Hay 50), Douglas, Grey (Luccock 50). Subs not used: Arnot, Atkinson.

Joe Elliott was named man of the match.

North Shields set off on the Wembley trail on Saturday when they travel to Cumbria to take on Penrith in an FA Cup tie. Kick off at Penrith’s new ground at Frenchfield Park is 3pm.

Supporters are welcome to travel on the team coach which will depart from the Daren Persson Stadium at 11am but spaces are limited so seats should be reserved in advance.

Should a replay be necessary it will take place on Wednesday, August 24, (7.45pm) otherwise the Robins will entertain Ryton & Crawcrook Albion in a Northern League fixture at 7.30pm.

The last time Shields visited Penrith’s Southend Road Stadium was in 2007-08 when they lost 2-0, but they did achieve a 1-1 draw the previous season when current player/coach Martin Graham wore the number five shirt and Stuart Heppell netted.

The North Shields versus Morpeth Town fixture has been brought forward and will now take place on Friday, August 26, at 7.30pm.