North Shields made it four wins in four games on Tuesday night as a battling performance and a Dean Holmes header saw off Sunderland RCA at Meadow Park.
Saturday’s fixture at Dunston UTS was one of many games to fall foul of the wet weather, affording Shields a six-day gap between the 5-0 demolition of Jarrow Roofing and the midweek fixture in Ryhope.
Despite netting a brace apiece last Wednesday, Gareth Bainbridge and Peter Glen-Ravenhill were both rested, with Dan Wilson favoured in attack and Ryan McGorrigan stationed on the right flank.
Meadow Park has not always been a happy hunting ground for Shields, whose only victories there in the last decade have come in knockout competitions such as the Senior Cup and the FA Vase.
However, Shields looked like redressing the balance within moments of kick-off. A wayward back pass from Clayton Davis was seized upon by Holmes and the RCA captain was the most relieved man on the pitch when the winger lifted the one-on-one wide of Andy Hunter’s goal.
The home side looked keen to take advantage of that early reprieve, pinning Shields back with a number of lofted balls forward. One such play forced a rare errant touch from Curtis Coppen, affording Colin Larkin the opportunity to steal possession and make inroads into the box. The player-coach was denied by a fine save from Chris Bannon, racing out to block the veteran’s shot at close quarters.
Larkin was a thorn in Shields’ side in the first 15 minutes, and it was his cross from the right flank which almost facilitated the opener. Arriving towards the back post was Stephen Callen, whose close-range header looked destined to find the back of the net. Again, Bannon came to the Robins’ rescue with a remarkable stop, an outstretched hand palming the ball away before the defence crowded out Larkin’s attempt from the rebound.
The visitors were yet to find their rhythm, a dangerous counter fizzling out with a tame header from Holmes. The hosts, meanwhile, struck the woodwork on 34 minutes, another Callen header clipping the outside of the post, though Bannon and his defence had the latest effort covered.
At the other end, Andy Hunter remained untested between the RCA sticks. Indeed, Shields’ best chances of breaking the deadlock rested upon the decisions of the officials. The referee had already turned down one penalty claim by the time Dan Wilson went to ground twice in quick succession, Liam Hatch the offender on both occasions. The man in the middle waved away vociferous appeals, and was similarly unmoved when the same centre-half went through the back of Wilson in the area minutes later.
Regardless, Shields had Bannon to thank for keeping the scores level at half-time, and asserted themselves from the outset in a closely fought second half. The chances still weren’t flowing for either side, Michael McKeown and Callen both failing to find the target for their respective sides.
The stalemate was broken on the 69th minute, and it was Shields who would snatch a valuable lead. A Robins counter stretched RCA out of position down the right, and though the hosts briefly regained possession, good pressure from McKeown saw the ball surrendered to Jack Donnison. The full back’s inch-perfect delivery found Wilson unmarked in the area, and although Hunter produced a superb parry to keep the forward out, Holmes was following up. The wideman was Shields’ most direct force in attack all evening, and got the goal his performance deserved, nodding in from two yards.
Sunderland RCA were expected to come back at Shields with an onslaught in the final twenty minutes, but it was Graham Fenton’s men who continued to threaten. A last-ditch tackle from Davis prevented Wilson from striding into the area unchallenged, while Ben Richardson scooped an effort over from twenty yards.
As the game entered its final throes, North Shields did an exemplary job of retaining possession, winding down the clock to the frustration of the opposition. Try as they might, the CA could not get beyond Hughes and Coppen in the heart of the visitors’ defence, failing to unduly trouble Bannon in the closing minutes, save for a wayward cross that briefly threatened to dip beneath the crossbar.
It might not have been as easy on the eye as their previous victories, but Shields showed the commitment and dogged spirit required to grind out a result against a difficult RCA outfit.
Having kept three clean sheets in four consecutive wins, North Shields will be confident of further success in the coming week, first playing host to league leaders Shildon on Saturday, before making the trip across the Tyne to Mariners Park, where a Tuesday night League Cup tie with South Shields lies in store.
North Shields: Bannon, Donnison, Lancaster, McKeown, Coppen, Hughes, McGorrigan (Glen-Ravenhill), Ormston, Wilson (Bainbridge), Richardson, Holmes (Carr).