Robins earn point on return to First Division

North Shields' Dean Holmes breaks into the Crook Town box. Picture by Ian Warde.
North Shields' Dean Holmes breaks into the Crook Town box. Picture by Ian Warde.

A dramatic 86th minute leveller from Dean Holmes sparked joyous scenes at the Daren Persson Stadium as the Robins battled back for a deserved point in their opening match in the Northern League First Division after a 25 year absence.

Holmes produced a great finish to jubilantly convert a Gareth Bainbridge cross after the hosts centre forward had made a positive run up the left flank.

It had been Malcolm Humble back in 1989 who was credited with Shields’ last First Division goal in a 2-1 loss at Billingham Town with their last point gained in a goalless draw at Tow Law.

North Shields and Crook had met in the last campaign in two stirring FA Cup ties with that man Holmes again grabbing a late equaliser to force a replay at the Millfield ground which the County Durham side edged 4-3 after extra time.

Graham Fenton this time fielded a starting XI who all figured in last year’s Championship squad with two of the side’s new acquisitions, Curtis Coppen and Rob Taylor, on the substitutes bench.

James Luccock failed a late fitness test whilst Peter Glen-Ravenhill, Dean Walker and Dan Smart were all on the injured list and vice-captain Joe Elliott was unavailable.

The visitors, in contrast, lined up with a completely new-look team and despite the Robins decent pre-season, the hosts were apprehensive at the new level – and it showed.

The Northern League top scorer and Player of the Year Gareth Bainbridge was keen to open this season’s tally and twice was thwarted by keeper Jak Wells, firstly after receiving a quick throw-in from Kieran Wrightson then latching onto a through ball.

Holmes showed early sparkle and was instrumental in most of Shields’ threats but the Tynesiders were deflated on the 24 minute mark as Tony Stephenson raced clear to coolly slot past home keeper Michael Robinson.

Before the interval Stephenson all but touched in a free kick at the far post and again in the second period looked destined to appear on the scoresheet once more but this time it was Robinson who kept his side in it with a brilliant save.

The Shieldsmen were now more confident but Crook were proving difficult to break down and carving out the clearer openings with Bruno Pilatos going close to making the points safe.

The Shields rally proved successful with time running out with Man of the Match Dean Holmes earning the plaudits.

North Shields: Robinson, Donnison, Grey, Richardson, Parker, Hughes, Holmes, Tait (Coppen 46), Bainbridge, Forster, Wrightson (Taylor 70) (Carr 88). Subs (not used) Turner, Hook.

The Robins are in FA Cup action on Saturday when they host Pontefract Colliers at 3pm.

Any replay would be on Wednesday, August 20, otherwise the Robins are scheduled to entertain Billingham Synthonia (7.30pm).