TALK about last-gasp, this really was.
What drama, what emotion as Scott Blandford’s header in the dying seconds of added time brought joyous scenes for North Shields at the Daren Persson Stadium.
Boss Anthony Woodhouse summed it up: “That was a precious goal,” he declared.
“Thornaby were blatantly time-wasting and in the end came away with nothing. We fully deserved the win.”
It was a good day for the Robins as the three teams that were above them in the table at the start of Saturday’s programme – Team Northumbria, Esh Winning and Darlington RA – all lost so the Shieldsmen climbed to a healthy second place with games in hand.
Shields have lost only once in their last 17 league outings and, after a seventh clean sheet, boast the best defensive record in the division with only 21 goals conceded in 20 games.
Woodhouse had named the same starting 11 in the previous three fixtures but, with Danny Bowlt injured against Northallerton, Paul Dunn came in at the back to replace him and, with Keith Douglas on the bench, led the team out, whilst Dean Holmes and Robbie Livermore were also brought into the line-up.
Conditions were not ideal with the strength of the wind increasing as the afternoon wore on but proceedings proved an absorbing spectacle and one worthy of a better attendance from the Shields public.
The mid-table Teessiders are enjoying a decent season and, with both sides weighing each other up in the opening stages, posed a threat with former Norton and Stockton Ancients striker Graeme Baverstock a prolific scorer.
It was the Robins though who tried to make the running and, when Andy Hay released Paul Gordon, his goalbound shot was deflected and, from the resultant corner, James Harmison rose well but was just off target with his header.
Following a Gareth McAlindon cross Holmes was crowded out and Blandford’s follow-up effort was touched behind then, after a neat build-up between McAlindon and Livermore, Holmes’ drive was held on the line by keeper Patrick Pisani.
Blandford rifled over the angle and Pisani saved from Gordon before Hay appeared to be pushed in the box but no award was given.
A McAlindon corner saw an almighty goalmouth scramble that Thornaby survived as the half ended with no breakthrough.
Baverstock drove just over as the visitors opened the second period with a flourish but, at the other end, substitute Douglas got on the end of a long Michael Robinson clearance to test Pisani.
As the clock ticked over Thornaby were happy enough just to sit back and absorb the pressure but they still proved dangerous on the break and on 81 minutes they were ruing a missed opportunity as Baverstock cleverly set up Marcus Laing who miscued when well placed.
In a frantic closing spell Blandford was agonisingly close with a rasping effort before the visitors were reduced to ten men with Ian Clark receiving a second yellow card after fouling Blandford.
Shields poured forward, Dunn glanced an Andy Wright centre wide, Pisani tipped a Danny Patterson cross behind before the Tynesiders gained that all important corner as the referee once more glanced at his watch.
Douglas took the kick, even keeper Robinson came up, and it was Blandford who sent the crowd into raptures.
A devastated Thornaby side kicked off again, the final whistle immediately blew, it was as tight as that.
North Shields: Robinson, Hughes, Patterson, McAlindon, Harmison, Dunn, Gordon (Douglas 60), Blandford, Hay (Luccock 73), Livermore (Wright 73), Holmes. Subs not used: Grey, Baistow. Man of the match Paul Dunn.
North Shields hope to extend their long unbeaten sequence away from home when they travel to Ryton and Crawcrook Albion on Saturday. Kick-off at the Kingsley Park Ground is 3pm.
Paul Gordon notched a hat-trick and Keith Douglas bagged a brace as the Robins won 5-1 when the two sides met at Ralph Gardner Park in October.
On Tuesday, December 13, Shields visit Hebburn Town in the Ernest Amstrong Trophy (7.30pm).