North Shields returned to league action on Bank Holiday Monday with a comfortable 5-1 win over Cumbrian visitors Penrith.
The Robins made nine changes to the starting line-up ahead of their NFA Senior Cup final against Blyth Spartans on Wednesday evening, with only Jordan Summerly and Dean Holmes keeping their places after the League Cup semi-final defeat against Shildon two days prior.
Gareth Williams and Alex Nisbet both made their debuts for the hosts, while familiar faces such as first team coach Brian Smith and fan favourite Robbie Livermore also took to the field.
Young attacker Jack Devlin has made an impression at the Daren Persson Stadium in recent weeks, and he put forward a strong claim for a starting berth in Wednesday’s final.
The 18-year-old was superb off the bench the previous Saturday, and though he side-footed wide from a good position in the 21st minute, he opened the scoring just past the half hour, collecting a lofted pass from the right flank and curling beyond Arran Taylor in the Penrith goal.
Ryan McGorrigan also excelled in the number nine role, but spurned a gilt-edged opportunity from the edge of the area, playing a neat one-two with Holmes but miskicking the ball when it returned to his feet.
Gareth Bainbridge came on at half-time for the impressive Devlin, sending a well-placed free kick off target before the hour.
McGorrigan was unfortunate to see an effort come back off the upright, but Shields finally got the breathing space their dominance deserved in the 67th minute.
Ryan Carr’s initial shot was parried by Taylor into the path of Bainbridge and the Robins’ top scorer side footed into an open net.
Carr made it onto the scoresheet himself three minutes later. Picked out by a fine pass from Nisbet, the substitute strode in from the left channel to place the ball into the far corner.
Penrith almost responded immediately, a vicious drive from Jake Smith forcing a wonderful one-handed save from skipper Sean McCafferty, while counterpart Taylor had to be at his best to deny McGorrigan in a one-on-one scenario.
The sun was shining on NE29, and the home support soon had a fourth reason to cheer.
McCafferty’s long goal kick was misjudged by a Penrith centre half, affording Bainbridge the opportunity to take his time and lob the ball over the head of the stranded keeper.
The Bonny Blues did grab a consolation in the 81st minute, Ben Jackson drilling the ball through a crowded box into the bottom corner.
But fittingly it was Shields who had the final say. McGorrigan belatedly got his goal, collecting a fine ball from Williams down the right flank and hammering high into the net via the far post.
The result lifts Shields back into ninth place, with a top five finish still within reach.
Assistant manager Andrew Bowman was delighted with the performance, saying: “It a feel of an end of season game, but to be fair, there were players who haven’t played many minutes this season. They left everything out there today. To score five against a team like Penrith is a massive result.”
North Shields: McCafferty, Williams, Summerly (Parker), Nisbet, Smith, Brooking, Glen-Ravenhill, Livermore, McGorrigan, Devlin (Bainbridge), Holmes (Carr).