NORTH Shields returned to winning ways on Saturday as the promotion chase hots up when they beat Horden 2-0.
Shields had to grind out a performance against the lowly visitors but Dean Holmes produced some sparkle late on and two strikes in the final quarter hour of the match from Paul Watson and Ben Richardson secured three precious points.
Earlier Graham Fenton’s men had taken Bishop Auckland – fifth in the first division – to the wire in an absorbing Northern League third round cup tie.
Two more goals from Robbie Nolan, taking his tally for the campaign to 31 – 28 for Shields – kept the Robins right in it in a riveting spectacle.
Another prolific marksman, Bishop’s Andrew Johnson despatched a 20th minute penalty and that was all that separated the sides at half time.
The Tynesiders levelled with a superb curler from Nolan but the County Durham visitors regained the advantage with Kieran Megran’s shot only half stopped and Johnson forcing the ball home.
The Robins were playing with gusto and hit back again through a Nolan spot kick but, with just seven minutes remaining, Megran found the net from a Johnson assist for a 3-2 verdict.
Shields desperately needed to see off Horden to maintain an interest in the promotion stakes and, despite a rather flat first period, they finally broke through their plucky visitors in the closing stages.
The Colliers made their intentions plain from the outset, posing little threat as an attacking force, but they were effective in frustrating the hosts in a drab first 45 minutes.
Shields lost play makers Adam Forster on the hour and Horden, sensing an upset, forced two cracking saves from Sean McCafferty as the home keeper kept his side on level terms.
The Robins were rejoicing as substitute Paul Watson broke the deadlock, receiving from Phil Robinson, and sweetly rifling past Horden keeper Steven Hubery.
Having used all three substitutes, and with Keith Douglas hobbling, the Shieldsmen had to show some grit and were rewarded two minutes from the whistle as Nolan ran at the defence, squared to Richardson, who made the points safe with an exquisite chip into the net.
North Shields: McCafferty, Hall, Grey, Richardson, Harmison, Elliott, McMullen (P Robinson 29), Forster (Watson 60), Nolan, Wrightson (Douglas 60), Holmes. Subs (not used): Patterson, McCabe. Man of the match: Sean McCafferty.
Robins’ assistant boss Andy Bowman said: “Against Bishops the lads’ efforts were fantastic against top opposition.
“Versus Horden we started slowly and struggled with our passing game.
“They never troubled us at the back so we pushed and got what we deserved eventually.
“That second goal was something special – Ben Richardson’s stunning finish from Rob Nolan’s great pass typifies their two performances at the minute.”
Shields, at Birtley Town on Saturday (3pm) face a hectic end of season run in.
Fixtures just announced are: Good Friday, March 29, West Allotment, away, noon kick off; Easter Monday, April 1, Darlington RA, away, 11am; Wednesday, April 3, Morpeth Town, away, 7.30pm; Saturday, April 1, Stokesley, home, 3pm; Monday, April 8, West Allotment, home, 7.30pm; Wednesday, April 10, Tow Law Town, home, 7.30pm; Saturday, April 13, Whickham, away, 3pm; Wednesday, April 17, Jarrow Roofing, home, 7.30pm; Saturday, April 20, Ryton & Crawcrook Albion, home, 3pm; Tuesday, April 23, Tow Law Town, away, 7.30pm; Saturday, April 27, Chester-le-Street, away, 3pm; Tuesday, April 30, Chester-le-Street, home, 7.30pm.