Robins move to the top of the league after going nap at Crook

James Luccock scores North Shields' third goal against Crook Town. Picture by Ian Warde.
James Luccock scores North Shields' third goal against Crook Town. Picture by Ian Warde.

North Shields warmed up for their FA Vase tie with Consett by moving into pole position in the league.

Not many fans would have thought the Robins, after romping to the Second Division title last term, would adjust so sweetly and well to life in the top division.

Shields were always clear favourites to take full points at basement club Crook Town but the difficult conditions could have proved a bit of a leveller.

Despite being without leading marksmen Gareth Bainbridge and Dean Holmes up stepped Dean Walker to lead the line and he was rewarded with a first half hat-trick.

It was Michael McKeown, though, who stole the show with an awesome display in the middle of the park.

McKeown had been his side’s saviour in the difficult midweek encounter at a useful Morpeth Town outfit who led through a spot kick until the 78th minute.

Despite seeing his initial free kick cannon off the woodwork McKeown lined up again to bury into the back of the net with a clinical drive through a ruck of players as the ball came back to him.

The Robins lined up at the Millfield ground without injured skipper Kevin Hughes but it was one-way traffic from the off.

Ryan Graham performed heroics between the home posts, blocking from James Luccock in the opening seconds then relieved to watch a Walker effort flash past the post.

The opener came on the 17 minute mark, Walker notching his first and two minutes on doubled his tally thanks to a Luccock assist.

Denver Morris was leading the home backline a merry dance and when he was upended in the box, up stepped McKeown only for Graham to make a smart save but Luccock was first to react and jubilantly tuck away the loose ball.

An offside flag ruled out another, the keeper bravely denying Ryan Carr before some great skills once more opened up an opportunity and Walker made no mistake.

Four up at the break it was 5-0 with 52 minutes on the clock as McKeown sent through another delicious through ball, this time releasing Morris, who cleverly tucked it past Graham.

Game over Shields perhaps took their foot off the gas and though McKeown, substitute Ben Richardson, Curtis Coppen and Stuart Donnison both up from the back all went close to adding to the tally, it was a surprise that Crook grabbed a consolation in a rare sortie upfield through Peter Brown three minutes from the whistle.

An attractive FA Vase Fourth Round Proper tie is in prospect at the Daren Persson Stadium on Saturday (3pm).

Fellow Northern First Division side Consett are the visitors as the Shieldsmen aim to keep on the Wembley trail.

The sides have already met earlier this campaign ,the Robins coming out 3-0 victors thanks to Gareth Bainbridge (2) and Denver Morris though it was a closely fought encounter.

To reach this stage Graham Fenton’s boys have already been victorious in four away ties at Northallerton, Stokesley, Sunderland RCA and Seaham Red Star with the Robins edging past AFC Emley on home turf.

If extra time fails to separate the sides the replay will be at Consett on Tuesday, January 20, otherwise Shields will be at Seaham Red Star for a Northern League Cup match (7.30pm).