Basement club Norton & Stockton Ancients came back from two goals down to salvage a deserved point at North Shields, drawing 2-2 at the Daren Persson Stadium on Thursday evening.
With three games to play in the space of seven days, the Robins rung the changes, veteran centre-half Darren Timmons making his debut alongside Kevin Hughes. Fellow new boy Jack Devlin was handed his first start in attack, while the likes of Lee Mason, Gareth Bainbridge and Curtis Coppen were all rested.
The rock-bottom visitors were coming off the back of a 6-4 defeat to Jarrow Roofing two days prior, but did not look like a side ten points adrift of safety, working hard to stifle Shields at every turn.
Thibault Charmey has been in particularly good form for the Ancients, boasting a scoring rate of almost a goal a game in recent months, and the Frenchman looked a threat early doors, a magnificent volley from thirty-five yards punched clear by the diving Sean McCafferty.
Charmey went close again on 20 minutes, a free kick delivery veering unintentionally close to goal, but chances were few and far between for both sides. Philip Caley could only muster a tame effort in the area, while Devlin lofted wide at the other end after a pinpoint cross-field pass from Ben Richardson.
Both Charmey and Jack Donnison fired off target for their respective sides, the latter’s shot across goal the closest Shields had come to breaking the deadlock.
It looked to remain goalless as the interval approached, until Dan Wilson strode forward into the area. The burly forward was hauled to the deck by full-back Stephen Jackson, and the referee didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot. Ben Richardson coolly dispatched the penalty to the right of ‘keeper Carl Robinson to nudge the Robins ahead before the break.
Shields were not at their swashbuckling best in the first half, but were nevertheless two goals to the good just minutes after the restart. Brad Brooking was the provider, a fine cross from the outside of the full-back’s boot converted by Peter Glen-Ravenhill at the back post.
Wilson blasted over from eighteen yards out as the Robins sought to extend their advantage further, but were surprisingly pegged back on 52 minutes. Charmey surged beyond Richardson and unleashed a snapshot from the edge of the box, the ball taking a wicked deflection off Kevin Hughes en route to goal.
Lewis Murphy would have levelled for Norton & Stockton three minutes later were it not for a fine block from Timmons, but the Ancients winger was not to be denied towards the hour. Jackson made amends for giving away the first-half penalty, a superb diagonal ball finding Murphy in the area. The 21-year-old controlled well before sliding the ball low beyond McCafferty.
It was no less than the Ancients deserved, and the hosts were noticeably ruffled by the Teessiders’ second-half resurgence. Fenton introduced Bainbridge and Ryan McGorrigan from the bench in an effort to reignite the fading attack, and their job was made easier by Ryan Bell’s dismissal fifteen minutes from time. The centre-half flew in with a reckless, late challenge on Brooking down the left, giving the referee no choice but to reach for the red card.
Sensing that victory was still on the cards, North Shields poured forward at will, but the disjointed passing and lack of movement persisted. For their part, Norton & Stockton dug in deep, restricting the Robins to just one clear opportunity to snatch the win.
Peter Glen-Ravenhill, a dangerous outlet for much of the evening, spun away from his marker and moved towards the byline. With red shirts flooding into the box, the wideman was faced with the choice of squaring across goal or going it alone. Glen-Ravenhill ultimately opted for the latter, but could only fire wide of the near post.
After Gary Ormston looped a header over from a corner, the man in the middle called time on the evening, Norton & Stockton returning down the A19 with a fully deserved point. Shields, meanwhile, were far from their flowing best on the night, and will be looking to put that disappointment behind them when they travel to fellow mid-table outfit Consett on Saturday afternoon.
Highlights from Thursday night’s game can be viewed on NSFCTV here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLLR1kBX9IM
North Shields: McCafferty, Donnison, Brooking, Ormston, Timmons, Hughes, Glen-Ravenhill, Carr (McGorrigan), Wilson (Bainbridge), Devlin (McKeown).
Norton & Stockton Ancients: Robinson, Jackson, Walton, Laing, Tunstall, Nelson, Braithwaite (Mulligan), Mitchell (Brown), Caley, Charmey, Murphy (Martin).