North Shields’ first league fixture of 2016 ended in defeat on Tuesday evening as they went down 3-1 to Seaham Red Star in County Durham.
Robins manager Graham Fenton made six changes to the side which secured a place in the NFA Senior Cup semi-final six days prior.
Goalkeeper Sean McCafferty, stalwart centre half John Parker and attackers Daniel Wilson and Lee Mason all drafted into the starting line-up, with top scorer James Luccock and centre-forward Gareth Bainbridge both available from the bench.
On a bristling night at Seaham Town Park, both sides traded early chances. Craig Lynch forcing McCafferty into making a fine one-handed stop in the game’s opening throes before Lee Mason’s back post header was diverted onto the outside of the post.
Despite playing on a surface that required a second pitch inspection on Tuesday afternoon, Shields persevered with their trademark passing game, but a combination of the conditions and their combative opponents kept the visitors from making significant inroads.
Ryan McGorrigan tested keeper Shaun Newbrook after driving in from the right, and Mason skewed wide from the edge of the box after an incisive run from Dean Holmes.
In a half of few clear cut chances, Seaham came closest to taking the lead on the half hour mark.
An exchange between the superb Robbie Bird and forward David Paul presented Paul Gardiner with a shooting opportunity within the area, but the former Jarrow Roofing playmaker pulled his shot just wide of McCafferty’s near post.
There was little to separate the two sides until the 34th minute, when the Shields goalkeeper gifted the lead to the hosts.
Under little pressure at the back, McCafferty failed to pick out a white shirt with his short ball, instead playing it into Lynch’s pass. The Star forward duly squared for strike partner Paul, who tucked the ball into the bottom corner to the delight of the home support.
Matters went from bad to worse for Shields before the half was out, first losing Mason to injury before seeing a Dean Holmes penalty appeal waved away by the referee.
That misery was compounded three minutes before the interval when a partially blocked attempt from Lynch fell kindly into the path of the unmarked Gardiner, who had the time and space to stroke the ball past McCafferty.
The deficit could have been one goal or three at the break. Michael McKeown lashing a low shot inches wide for the Robins, and Bird curling high onto the outside of the post for Seaham in stoppage time.
A lacklustre start to the second half rendered any comeback unlikely, until Shields won a free kick 20 yards out. A delivery from towards the corner of the area was anticipated, but McKeown’s low free kick was instead drilled through the crowd of bodies and into the back of the net.
Bird and David Palmer continued to look dangerous in the wide areas for Seaham, and the latter almost restored the hosts’ two-goal advantage in an instant. McCafferty doing well to push away the midfielder’s strike.
Shields counterpart Holmes should have tested Newbrook in a similar manner soon after, but the 23-year-old could not convert Wilson’s lay-off from the edge of the box, a horribly scuffed effort reaching the touchline for a throw-in.
With the game still very much in the balance, Palmer forced another save from McCafferty, and played an influential role in Seaham’s game-clinching goal.
Pouring forward as part of a Red Star counter-attack, the winger’s goalbound shot was stopped by a last-ditch John Parker block, but Gardiner was on hand to scramble in the rebound.
Shields pressed for a way back into the match in the closing stages, Wilson seeing a header cleared off the line and a shot on the turn drift two yards wide, but it was all in vain as Mark Collingwood’s men held on to claim victory.
The Robins will look to bounce back immediately from the league setback when they travel across the Tyne to face fierce rivals South Shields in the third round of the League Cup. Weather pending, the mouthwatering derby tie will kick-off at 7.30pm at Mariners Park this Thursday evening.