THE Robins last lost a match back on Guy Fawkes’ day – 3-2 to promotion rivals Gillford Park – and there were plenty sparks flying at the Nissan Ground on Saturday, mainly directed at the match officials whose decisions cost the club dearly.
The Shieldsmen’s magnificent 25- game unbeaten sequence on away soil came to an end in contentious fashion as hosts Washington completed an unlikely league double.
It was an afternoon when Anthony Woodhouse’s men must have felt they were up against 14 in the opposition ranks as at least two penalty shouts for handball fell on deaf ears whilst what would have been Keith Douglas’ 50th goal for Shields was chalked off by a very late flag.
It was the Robins’ first action for 21 days, and they perhaps understandably looked a little rusty in the opening stages with the hosts, including former Shields skipper Nicky Evans, starting at a phenomenal pace.
That early tempo couldn’t last and as the game wore on the Wearsiders contented themselves just to frustrate the Robins with some resilient defending, coupled with obvious time wasting.
Visiting keeper Michael Robinson had so little to do other than pick the ball out of the back of the net as Shields normally mean defence was breached twice.
Even so, they have still conceded only 27 goals in 25 matches, 13 less than any other club in the league.
James Harmison saw a third minute effort scrambled off the home line, keeper Chris Bannon saved from the home line, and keeper Chris Brown saved from Paul Gordon, who then wriggled clear but fired wide of the mark.
Shields were well on top until the 23rd minute, when the visitors stopped expecting a free kick in their favour only for Chris Tate to advance and cross for Lee Hamilton to slot into a vacant net.
Trying to respond, Shields appealed in vain for a spot kick, Scott Blandford rifled inches wide, Bannon blocked from Dean Holmes, Robbie Livermore sliced over following great determination from Gordon then Livermore was desperately unlucky with a drive that was hacked off the goalline in the final seconds of the half.
Shields had to replace the injured Harmison on the resumption, but still it remained one-way traffic towards the home goal.
Chances continued to go begging however.
Gordon and Andy Hay both shot over, Bannon again denied the lively Gordon then, when Hay and Holmes combined, the match referee whistled just as Livermore was about to convert.
A Holmes effort was then kept out by a defender’s hand.
Shields were caught out by a quick break after 61 minutes, with Hamilton producing a neat finish to double his sides advantage.
The Robins thought they were right back in it when Bannon couldn’t hold onto Holmes’ shot and Douglas pounced before the celebrations were cut short.
In a rare home sortie, Tate rattled the Shields bar with a free kick whilst, back at the other end, Hay appeared to be pulled back in the area then was fouled on the edge of the box but Paul Dunn’s free kick couldn’t penetrate the wall.
It was frantic stuff, but time was all but up before Shields finally got some reward from their pressure with a consolation from Holmes, a cool finish for his 11th of the campaign.
Team boss Woodhouse said: “I thought the very least we deserved was a draw.
“The officials were very poor, though we still created more than enough opportunities to come away with something.
“We also had the misfortune to lose two players – James Harmison and Paul Gordon – with hamstring injuries.”
On Saturday, North Shields hope to revert to winning ways when Horden CW travel to the Daren Persson Stadium at Ralph Gardner Park, North Shields, for a 3pm kick-off.
In the corresponding game last season, strikes from Douglas and Hay earned a 2-0 verdict whilst earlier in this campaign at the Welfare Ground the scoreline was goalless.
On Wednesday, February 8, Crook Town are the visitors (7.30pm), a Douglas goal separating the sides at Millford back in September.