THE promotion race is hotting up and it is all to play for now after North Shields beat league leaders Crook Town on Saturday.
This was always going to be a feisty encounter – North Shields versus Crook clashes always are – and it took two second half strikes from Robins’ top marksman Robbie Nolan to settle the issue after the visitors had player/manager Gary Pearson red-carded with just ten minutes on the clock.
Both Shields boss Graham Fenton and assistant Andy Bowman were enthused after the match and agreed this was a fantastic result.
Bowman reflected: “We started the game well but perhaps didn’t use the early sending off to our advantage.
“In fact we stopped passing the ball and doing things simple for the rest of the first half.
“The second period was a lot better and we used the extra man to more effect.
“But it is just three points and there’s so many games to play, we have to make use of our matches in hand, break into the top three and stay there till May.”
Shields had travelled to Washington for an Ernest Armstrong Cup tie three days earlier and bowed out of the competition through an only goal but just three players of the starting 11 that night took the field against Crook.
Injuries still ruled out Dean Holmes and Paul Watson but otherwise Fenton had a full squad to choose from.
Shields sparked from the off and Nolan forced a fine save from experienced Crook keeper Barry Poskett with Adam Rowntree picking up the rebound to fire inches wide.
After bringing down and then tussling with Ben Richardson, the referee had no option to dismiss Pearson, and the County Durham outfit, who also had two men sent off in their previous match, continued to question every decision that went against them.
Richardson, Adam Forster and Michael McKeown dictated the midfield fare but the Tynesiders couldn’t make the breakthrough and Crook, to their credit, created a couple of chances of their own as the game drifted towards half time.
McKeown split the defence with a superb ball but Poskett denied Nolan then the keeper parried from Richardson whilst before the whistle Crook’s David Gordon found himself free at the far post but blasted over the top.
Shields made a double substitution at the start of the second half and took a 51st minute lead as Nolan latched onto a Richardson long ball, superbly shrugged off a defender’s attention before coolly slotting home.
Nolan then volleyed fractionally over, Poskett somehow parried a terrific Forster effort, then blocked again from Nolan.
The decisive second strike came seven minutes from the close as Kieran Wrightson supplied Nolan, who rounded the keeper but was forced wide before squeezing the ball past Poskett for his 24th goal of the campaign.
It was to be another clean sheet for the Robins, the Shields back-line determined not to be beaten as they thwarted any threat of a Crook consolation.
North Shields: Robinson, Elliott, Patterson, Richardson, Harmison, Akinbolu, Rowntree (Wrightson 46), McKeown (Grey 46), Nolan, Douglas (Hook 75), Forster. Subs (not used): Hall, McCafferty. Man of the match: James Harmison.
North Shields travel to Alnwick Town on Saturday (3pm).
Keith Douglas bagged four and Dean Holmes one in a 5-3 Northumberland Senior Cup win at St James’ Park in October then a sole Andy Hay strike secured three precious points when the sides met at Shields.
The Robins entertain Bishop Auckland in the Northern League Cup on Wednesday, March 13 (7.30pm).