Ashton United 3-3 South Shields
South Shields battled back from a two-goal deficit to take a share of the spoils in a six-goal thriller against Ashton United in the Pitching In Northern Premier League on Tuesday.
On a pulsating night, Shields recovered from 2-0 and 3-1 behind in the second half to preserve their unbeaten start to the campaign.
The Mariners went into the game having not yet conceded a goal, but that all changed in the opening 45 minutes as in-form Ashton raced into a 2-0 lead.
Half-time substitute Jason Gilchrist prodded home to half the deficit but when the Robins restored their two-goal advantage from the penalty spot in controversial circumstances, Shields found themselves back at square one.
They retained the momentum they had built up prior to falling 3-1 behind, though, and got back on level terms thanks to a stunning free-kick from Robert Briggs and a second goal from Gilchrist before pressing for a winner to no avail in the closing stages.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton fielded a side which included three changes from the team which started Saturday’s goalless draw at Hyde United, with Wouter Verstraaten, Will Jenkins and Alex Kempster replacing Josh Gillies, Nathan Lowe and Gilchrist.
They started promisingly enough at Hurst Cross without creating any clear-cut opportunities, with Kempster providing their first effort at goal with a 25-yard free-kick which goalkeeper Christopher Cheetham held.
A strong three-minute spell midway through the first half saw Ashton establish a two-goal advantage.
Shields fell behind at the hands of a familiar face, with John Lufudu’s cross from the right met by Millenic Alli, who steered the ball home against his former club from the left of the area.
Alli demonstrated the kind of talent which earned him a move to the Mariners a little over a year ago in an impressive first half performance, and his side was celebrating a second goal on 28 minutes as John Pritchard’s menacing free-kick delivery from the right was headed in by Michael Raynes.
It was a double blow which stung Shields, but they almost hit back immediately as Blair Adams burst down the left and had a shot blocked, with Jenkins then denied in similar fashion.
Kempster proved to be the Mariners’ biggest threat throughout most of the game and he was the next to go close, bursting through the middle before forcing Cheetham into a low save.
Shields introduced Lowe and Gilchrist at the break as they looked for a response in the second period, but they were nearly dealt a hammer blow within moments of the restart as Ashton broke away down the right and a cross was delivered to Alli, who looked certain to score his second at the back post only to divert the ball wide.
That prompted a better response from the away side as they built up pressure on the Ashton goal.
Dillon Morse had a header saved from a Briggs corner, Kempster saw an effort blocked and Darius Osei nodded wide before Gilchrist went even closer, firing a low effort which was deflected into the side netting as Shields continued to knock at the door.
They found their breakthrough in the 57th minute after a fine bit of play, with Briggs beating the defence with a clipped pass from near the halfway line on the right and Gilchrist controlling it sumptuously before dinking it past Cheetham with his second touch to half the deficit.
The Mariners were dealt a blow when substitute Lowe was forced off with an injury soon after but that did not halt their momentum, with his replacement Craig Baxter having a shot blocked and Shields then going closer still as Gilchrist was found by Callum Ross before drawing a fine save from Cheetham.
With an equaliser appearing to be an increasingly likely prospect, Shields were hit by a sucker punch as Baxter was penalised after a challenge on an Ashton forward and the referee pointed to the spot, despite the visitors’ protestations that the incident had taken place outside the penalty area.
Joshua Wilson’s spot-kick was powerful and central as he restored the Robins’ two-goal lead.
Such had Shields’ dominance been to that point in the second half, they will have felt confident further chances would come their way, and so it proved.
Jordan Hunter slid a dangerous low ball across the area which was cut out just before Gilchrist could convert, and minutes later as Osei advanced through the middle he was scythed down on the edge of the box.
The free-kick was awarded in what can only be described as Robert Briggs territory, and the Shields vice-captain showed exactly why that description is so apt.
He lifted a glorious free-kick over the wall and in via a kiss of the underside of the bar to again half the home side’s advantage and set up an exciting finish.
It took less than two more minutes for the Mariners to pull back on level terms, with Briggs again at the heart of it.
His chipped ball from the right was punched by Cheetham and after a momentary spot of pinball was slotted into the net by Gilchrist, only for the assistant referee to raise his flag for offside. After consulting with his fellow official, though, the referee ruled that the offside Osei had not been interfering with play and awarded Shields their equaliser – and with it an opportunity to press home their dominance in the final 12 minutes by scoring a winner.
Ashton retained an attacking threat of their own and on 80 minutes, almost reclaimed the lead as Alli raced through one-on-one with Myles Boney, who denied him with a fine save before making a brave follow-up block, taking the full force of the forward in the process. After lengthy treatment, the goalkeeper was able to continue.
Shields had a number of half-chances to go 4-3 ahead before Ashton survived an incredible goalmouth scramble as Briggs, Kempster and Osei were all denied what would surely have been a winner.
Briggs had a final opportunity to snatch it deep into added time with a free-kick in similar territory to his first, but this time opted to aim for the goalkeeper’s side of the goal and Cheetham stood firm to make the save.
The second half had proved to be a breathtaking affair and the two sides will do it all over again on Saturday in the Emirates FA Cup at Hurst Cross. Both management teams will surely be hoping for a little less drama.
South Shields: Boney, Hunter, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Ross, Verstraaten (Lowe 46) (Baxter 59), Briggs, Osei, Jenkins (Gilchrist 46), Kempster. Subs not used: McCamley, Mason.
Goals: Gilchrist (57, 78), Briggs (76).