JAMES Harmison’s stoppage time equaliser saw the Robins snatch a worthy point in a rousing tussle with Ryhope – a fellow genuine contender for promotion.
This was a steaming spectacle epitomised by a breathtaking finale as the Shieldsmen preserved and extended their unbeaten sequence to 13 games, 11 of which have been in the Northern League.
As centre half Harmison, a tower of strength at the back, notched his fourth goal of the campaign – he also scored at Ryhope – the visitors were devastated and had to defend a last gasp corner, won by the persistence of Adam Forster, before they could travel home with a share of the spoils.
Shields boss Graham Fenton had to make one enforced change to his line-up with a one match suspension to Ben Richardson disturbing the purring of his midfield engine but into the gap, and starting for the first time, came Kieran Wrightson, who netted twice as a substitute at Thornaby.
Ryhope started the game in second place and were making their first visit to Shields since 2003 in the season the Robins won the Wearside League Championship and elevation back into the Northern League.
Stephen Miller, Steve Hamil, Paul Blakey and Roy Gordon were all on the scoresheet that day as the hosts came out on top by a 4-1 verdict.
The Wearsiders this time included the prolific striking duo of John Butler and skipper Chris Winn up front but it was the Robins leading marksman Rob Nolan who almost gave his side an early advantage, after neatly lobbing keeper Chris Rookes only to see his follow-up strike the outside of the post.
Ryhope, though, began to show just why they have taken the division by storm and took a tenth minute lead as Sean McCafferty couldn’t get the distance he required to clear a teasing Lee McMahon’s free kick and Butler managed to prod in the loose ball.
Midway through the first period it began to look even bleaker for the Tynesiders as they were caught out by another set piece and Butler squeezed in a header at the far post.
It was all but three as visiting centre half Greg Swansbury nodded against an upright but, with the half time whistle looming, Nolan produced a moment of magic with a thunderous swerving shot past a shocked Rookes that nearly burst the net.
Fenton’s team talk fired his side up for a heart stopping second half which opened with Dean Holmes flashing a drive across the face of goal and Femi Akinbolu going close with a header.
Ryhope survived this spell of pressure and were gifted an opportunity to re-establish their two goal advantage with the inexplicable award of a free kick against Akinbolu for handball on the edge of the area when the ball was fired at him from point blank range.
Craig Marron, though, couldn’t believe his eyes as McCafferty produced the save of this or any other season with a fantastic punch up and behind.
That spurred the Robins desire for a leveller even more and, after some great work down the left by Forster and Dan Patterson, only the outstretched leg of Rookes thwarted Nolan.
There was to be such late drama and the point the Shieldsmen warranted came as Harmison stretched to meet a Paul Watson free kick, the header sweetly glanced into the net, and the celebrations began.
North Shields: McCafferty, Elliott, Patterson, Forster, Harmison, Akinbolu, Wrightson (Wright 68), McKeown (Hook 74), Nolan, Douglas (Watson 45), Holmes. Subs not used: Hall, M Robinson.
North Shields are at Morpeth Town on Saturday (3pm) then it’s a quick double with Tow Law Town. It’s a trip to the Ironworks Road ground on Tuesday, January 22 (7.30pm) with the County Durham club coming to the Daren Persson Stadium on Friday, January 25 (7.30pm).
The Robins are still active on three cup fronts – visiting Washington in the Ernest Armstrong Trophy on Wednesday, January 30, and have home matches to slot in against Bishop Auckland (Northern League Cup) and Ashington in the semi-final of the Northumberland Senior Cup.