Late Mason winner keeps North Shields out in front

Lee Mason in action for Noreth Shields. Picture by Ally Middleton
Lee Mason in action for Noreth Shields. Picture by Ally Middleton

In their final outing of 2016, North Shields held off firm competition from Tyneside rivals Newcastle Benfield to snatch a late victory at Sam Smith’s Park.

Jon McDonald’s men could have been accused of still recovering from their Christmas Day celebrations in the opening half hour as the home side got their noses in front early.

John Campbell curled in an effort after three minutes then only minutes later Paul Brayson squandered the chance to double his side’s lead from the penalty spot.

Shields did finally offer a fight back and were gratefully awarded an equaliser a minute before half-time with Craig McFarlane on target.

The second half was a lot more of a comprehensive from the league leaders, opportunities came but Shields had to wait until the final ten minutes for a winner as Lee Mason fortunately found the net to keep a five-point gap from themselves and South Shields.

North Shields’ victory adds to their overall 2016 record of an impressive 44 wins and only nine defeats in 65 games.

The Boxing Day clash was contested in difficult conditions with the wind playing havoc on a bobbly pitch.

The Robins struggled to acclimatise in the opening half hour and suffered the worst possible start as McFarlane was dispossessed by Campbell, who then went on to find the corner of Kyle Hayes’ net.

Just minutes later, referee Stu Kyle then awarded a penalty for a challenge on Scott McCarthy. To the Robins’ relief, veteran Brayson surprisingly fired his spot-kick wide of the post.

Brayson’s penalty miss was acknowledged as a let off for the away side but McDonald and his staff were still waiting for a reaction, they were probably thankful that Benfield were only testing their goal from long range.

But as the 30-minute mark hit, the Robins’ fight back began. The away side started to use width to their advantage as winger McFarlane flashed two opportunities past Andrew Grainger’s goal in a short space of time.

Warning signs from McFarlane were not dealt with by the hosts as hefound himself unmarked at the back post from a Marc Lancaster cross to level on 44 minutes.

As the second period got under way, Mason ensured that Shields continued to build on their late first-half pressure as he forced a good save from Grainger on 51 minutes.

But despite the visitors applying heavy pressure on their opponents, arguably in the hosts’ best opportunity of the half, they should have retaken the lead on 57 minutes. Josh Scott delayed his shot before he played it into the path of Brayson, but the forward’s poor touch gave the Robins a let-off.

Dean Holmes got the Shields’ attack going again after beat his man to produce an audacious chip just over the bar after seeing the goalkeeper off his line.

With just over 15 minutes left to find a winner, boss McDonald brought Gareth Bainbridge and Ryan Carr off the bench, but it would be neither substitute who would net the winner.

On 84 minutes, Mason picked up the ball from wide left and whipped a cross in with his right foot, the wind caught the ball and directed it over Grainger and into the top right corner.

With little time remaining McDonald’s side held out for the crucial three points.

North Shields will hope their next task at Washington on Saturday, January 7, is a lot less tricky than this one.