IT’S 20 up for North Shields FC as they stretched their unbeaten record in a bid to cement their promotion push.
There is still some way to go for the Shieldsmen, who have 12 league fixtures to complete and continue to be wary of the three clubs in the chasing pack – Team Northumbria, Whickham and Marske.
Anthony Woodhouse and Graham Fenton have guided their side to a healthy third position, 14 points behind leaders Newton Aycliffe with four games in hand, but just four adrift of second top Guisborough Town who have played three more matches.
At Brandon’s Welfare Park, Shields stormed into a two-goal advantage, but it was only a last minute strike that finally made sure of the points against a plucky home outfit that belied their lowly position.
Former Stanley supremo Vince Kirkup was magnanimous in his praise of the Robins’ performance from his current position as Brandon assistant manager, despite a few of the travelling support somewhat critical of their side’s display.
Team boss Woodhouse enthuse: “We weren’t at our best but did enough to grind out another three points and at the moment that’s so important.
“We’ve got some testing games coming up particularly with Guisborough at home and doubles with Marske and Whitehaven, and with a couple of injuries picked up at Brandon it’s good that we’ve got decent replacements.”
James Luccock, Andy Hay and Steven Robinson all limped out of the action on Saturday but Phil Cartwright, Joe Elliott and Lee Picton are ready to step in.
There’s certainly a feel-good factor at North Shields these days in this Northern League campaign probably not experienced since Jim Pearson’s lads took Blyth Spartans to the wire back in 1983-84.
Player-boss Pearson notched 34 goals himself and, with Paul Ross and Micky Carroll both chipping in with 25, the Robins overcame Morecambe twice in five epic FA Cup and FA Trophy ties and became the only Northern League side to reach the second round proper of the trophy before bowing out to Barnet.
This time round it’s skipper Keith Douglas leading the way with his 23rd league goal, his team’s second, to make it 31 for the campaign so far.
Douglas played in a much deeper role after the break as the Tynesiders tried to consolidate their interval lead.
Key defenders Danny Patterson and Femi Akinbolu were absent but Mark Rasmussen, injured against Seaham Red Star, did well to make the starting line-up and it took the Robins just seven minutes to open their account.
Ryan Page set up Luccock to cross from the left with Hay slipping the ball into the path of Jonathan Hall, the Shields defender tucking away his fourth goal in as many matches.
Brandon keeper Andrew Wilkinson made a number of good stops to keep his side afloat but had no chance as the prolific Douglas put the Shieldsmen two up in the 25th minute.
Barely had the celebrations subsided however, before the hosts were awarded a spot kick and whilst Craig Pickering superbly kept out the initial effort the loose ball fell kindly for the Brandon number ten Daniel Corbett to score at the second attempt.
Ross Atkinson and Page both went close before the break, with the latter continuing to be prominent on the resumption.
Brandon, still sensing they had a chance with only a one goal deficit, started to play as the second period unwound and Pickering had to save at full stretch from substitute Tom Fothergill.
The lively Michael Pattison was proving a handful for the home rearguard in Shields’ sorties but failed to get a shot in after cleverly jinking his way through on 83 minutes then Wilkinson grabbed at his feet.
Shields were finally able to breathe more easily just before the close with Pattison, fed by Andy Bowman, managing to slip the ball past the keeper and into the net despite a defender’s desperate try to get back and clear off the line.
North Shields: Pickering, Hall, Luccock (Pattison 22), Robinson (Harris 65), Atkinson, Baistow, Livermore, Rasmussen, Hay (Bowman 41), Douglas, Page. Subs not used: Cartwright, Graham.
North Shields host Whitehaven on Saturday, 3pm, at the Daren Persson Stadium at Ralph Gardner Park.
The last meeting between the sides at Shields was a nine goal thriller in the Ernest Armstrong Trophy semi-final the Robins eventually going down 4-5.