North Shields were left ruing their luck at Heritage Park on Saturday afternoon, striking the crossbar twice en route to a 1-0 defeat to Bishop Auckland.
With another three games to play before the end of April, Robins manager Graham Fenton rotated his threadbare squad, with Ryan Carr and Jack Devlin both handed starts.
Kevin Hughes and Curtis Coppen also missed out through injury, with full back Brad Brooking deputising alongside John Parker in the heart of defence.
Shields started brightly against the high-flying hosts, Devlin seeing a shot blocked and Ryan McGorrigan blazing over.
Carr looked particularly keen on the left, and was first to test Bishops keeper Edward Wilczynski, an early snapshot drawing a good save low to the left.
A fine ball from Michael McKeown produced the opportunity of the half for Shields in the 22nd minute. His lofted pass from deep was nodded down in the area by McGorrigan, who instinctively looked to flick the ball over the keeper’s head. Both could only look on as the ball dipped onto the top of the crossbar and into Wilczynski’s grasp.
The hosts, rattled by the near miss, immediately responded with their first real attempt of the match. Scott McCarthy was forced out wide by Jordan Summerly, but still managed to get a shot away, requiring a two-handed stop from Chris Bannon.
Shields were still shading the contest by the half hour mark, but it was the Two Blues who opened the scoring on 34 minutes.
Priestley Griffiths found space on the left and his deep, looping delivery was nodded in from close range by McCarthy.
McKeown added to Shields’ lengthening injury list when he departed on 41 minutes, Lee Mason’s introduction prompting a tactical reshuffle.
Devlin almost stole in before the break, out-muscling Purewal and slipping past Cairns, only for the linesman’s flag to deny him a clear run at goal.
Bishop Auckland’s full backs could have doubled their side’s advantage immediately after the break, Michael Hoganson sending a free kick marginally wide, before Stuart Thompson’s deflected shot was saved by Bannon.
Shields counterpart Summerly fired off target for the visitors one minute later, but the Robins would not go close again until the 73rd minute, Ben Richardson’s free kick towards the back post almost met by the stretching Devlin, though the flag was once again raised on the far side.
Young prospect Devlin, signed last month from Easington Colliery, was just a lick of paint from grabbing his first goal in Shields colours.
Collecting the ball from Summerly 20 yards from goal, the forward curled towards the top corner, turning away in despair as it came back off the crossbar.
The introduction of Dan Wilson offered North Shields another option in attack, and the substitute’s low delivery across goal was almost met by Summerly before Mason smashed wide.
The visitors almost grabbed a deserved point at the death when Summerly, all-action down the left flank, floated a cross towards the back post. Poised to strike was Mason, who unleashed a perfectly-timed volley, but Wilczynski was somehow equal to it, pulling off the safe of the afternoon in the final minute to seal the win for his side.
The best of Saturday’s action can be viewed at NSFCTV – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tyc0UGUCnjE
The Robins will be hoping to get back on the goal trail at Newcastle Benfield on Monday evening, with a League Cup semi-final against Shildon and a Bank Holiday fixture at home to Penrith on the horizon.
North Shields: Bannon, Donnison, Summerly, McKeown (Mason), Parker, Brooking, Richardson, Ormston, McGorrigan (Wilson), Devlin, Carr (Bainbridge).