MORPETH’S Craik Park was the only waterlogged venue in the entire Northern League programme on Saturday and, with the Robins’ visit cancelled, both Gillford Park and Darlington RA took advantage to jump ahead of the Shieldsmen in the table.
It was a third successive postponement for Anthony Woodhouse’s men and their fifth match called off in the last eight scheduled.
North Shields now have six games in hand on leaders Team Northumbria who hold a 13-point advantage, and five in hand of third top Darlington RA, who are just a solitary point in front.
Carlisle-based outfit Gillford Park, the only side to have defeated the Robins in their last 21 games, have now risen to second, one point ahead having played one more fixture.
Fifth placed Esh Winning lost ground with a home defeat, but a number of other clubs are still in contention for one of the promotion places, notably Hebburn Town, the only side to have competed in less matches than Woodhouse’s lads.
Shields, unbeaten on the road since September 2010 – 25 games – will be looking for their 50th league goal of the campaign and skipper Keith Douglas, his 50th for the club when they next take the field, both are presently one short.
Top marksman so far is Dean Holmes with ten strikes, Douglas has nine, Andy Hay eight, Paul Gordon seven with James Luccock, Paul Dunn and Scott Blandford all on four, Craig Deighton on three and Mark Rasmussen two.
Shields’ strength lies in their miserly goals against tally, only 25 conceded in 24 league matches including four clean sheets at Horden, Crook, Team Northumbria and Easington, and another four at home to Esh Winning, Whitehaven, Northallerton and Thornaby.
The Robins travel to the Nissan Sports complex on Saturday to take on Washington, kick-off 3pm.
They have fond memories of last season’s trip which resulted in a 9-1 romp thanks to a Douglas hat-trick and braces for Hay, Femi Akinbolu and Ryan Page, but they need to address a 4-2 home reverse at the start of this campaign.
North Shields will make a third attempt to play their Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup tie at Hebburn Town on Wednesday, February 1 (7.30pm).
The Shieldsmen reached the semi-finals of the competition in 2010 before bowing out 5-4 to Whitehaven in a pulsating clash, but, in the last campaign, they lost 1-0 in a dour encounter at Whickham after defeating Morpeth Town 9-0 in an earlier round.
The Robins are still waiting for a date for their Northern League Cup tie at Newcastle Benfield but will entertain Horden CW on Saturday, February 4, and Crook Town, in a re-scheduled fixture on Wednesday, February 8, with league points at stake.
Assistant team boss Andy Bowman said: “All the games which have been off are a blow, and looking at the table we need to start putting points on the board to keep the pressure on all around us.
“The break, though, has got a few of the lads over little niggles, and Mark Rasmussen comes back into the fold after a family bereavement.
“We have a big squad of excellent players, all of whom are capable of starting every game, which gives a hard but welcome headache to Woody and myself each game.
“We’ve improved season by season and if we can finish just one spot higher than last year we will be in the first division.
“A stack of games to go though and we know it will not be easy.”