THIS was surely one of the most dire Ernest Armstrong matches in the competition’s 16-year history, and Whickham’s win over North Shields FC was settled by one of its more contentious and baffling decisions.
Both top six sides cancelled each other out with some admirably determined defending, which was particularly robust at times by the hosts, yet neither outfit could carve out a worthwhile opening or a telling shot throughout the entire 90 minutes.
Hartlepool assistant referee Brian Doughty at least spared everyone the plight of enduring 30 more potentially turgid extra minutes by inexplicably waving his flag in the 36th moment.
That was to inform Gateshead referee Marc Edwards of an alleged infringement spotted by himself and Edwards felt obliged to point to the penalty spot.
Ironically Whickam centre forward Tony Thirkell, who should have been red-carded not shown a yellow for a heavy challenge on Shields’ Martin Graham, did his best to miss but saw his effort cannon in off the underside of the bar.
So the Robins, after scoring goals for fun – 56 in their record blazing 20 match unbeaten league record – have now played 270 minutes without finding the net and suffered three successive single goal reverses.
Happily keeper Michael Robinson has now regained full fitness and he donned the gloves to replace the cup tied Craig Pickering, and he could not have imagined a more comfortable return to action.
Up front Shields started with Chris Laws and Michael Pattison as a strike-force short of any service.
James Luccock on the flank tried hard without any end reward, and the sooner Andy Hay can don a Shields shirt again then maybe the goals can flow once more.
Whickham, who beat the Robins 4-1 on their renowned sloping Glebe pitch back in September, threatened only once to increase their advantage when Sam McIntosh struck the upright in the 74th minute.
Shields, with crucial league fixtures pending at Marske then home to Northallerton on Tuesday (7.30pm) weren’t short on work-rate but lacked creativity.
Skipper Keith Douglas, on as a second half substitute, had to chase back even to get a touch of the ball whilst, in a late flurry, Laws and Steven Robinson both saw headers float past the post.
North Shields: M. Robinson, Graham (Akinbolu 83 mins), Patterson, Cartwright, Hall, S. Robinson, Rasmussen, Elliot (Livermore 62 mins), Laws, Pattison (Douglas 65 mins), Luccock. Subs not used: Atkinson, Bowman.
North Shields will be hoping for a repeat of the 4-1 scoreline they merited against Northallerton at home last season when the two clubs meet again this weekend, whilst they must regret throwing away a two-goal lead in the closing minutes of the match at Ainderby Road in August.