Billingham 1-0 South Shields

By Daniel Prince. Match sponsored by: Ashley Bathrooms.

South Shields saw their hopes of silverware for the season ended as Billingham Town won a tight Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup semi-final 1-0 on Tuesday.

Louis Whensley’s goal seven minutes before half-time settled the contest in Billingham’s favour, and they will now face Team Northumbria or Norton and Stockton Ancients in the final.

Shields striker Stephen Ramsey was sent off towards the end of the tie for a second booking, and the Mariners were left to reflect on a defeat which leaves them with just Ebac Northern League Division Two to focus on in the remainder of the campaign.

The Mariners were backed by a sizeable travelling support at The Evolution Arena, but suffered a blow before kick-off, with top scorer Paul Kane’s groin injury meaning he was only fit enough to take a place on the bench.

Ramsey – who had recovered from illness – replaced Kane in the starting line-up, while Barrie Smith shrugged off a groin injury to play.

Shields were up against it in the opening stages, with Billingham starting the game with a strong wind at their backs.

Their set-pieces, in particular, were a potent threat, and just two minutes in Shields were fired a real warning when Callam Brown’s corner curled in and beat everyone before bouncing out to safety.

Brown had another half-chance on 11 minutes when a free-kick was floated into him, but his shot lacked power and was easily collected by Niki Lawson, who had an excellent game in goal.

The hosts continued to put pressure on Shields, and captain Chris Locke did well to clear a ball over his own crossbar before Lawson did superbly to claw a Brown corner away from the top corner after the set-piece evaded everyone.

The Mariners’ first real opportunity came after they were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the Billingham box on the right, but Ben Riding’s curled effort was well held by home goalkeeper Michael Thackeray.

At the other end, another in-swinging corner from Brown was on target to go straight in, but this time Lee Maitland got in the way to clear.

Shields gained some respite in the period which followed, and created a chance of their own when Smith’s lofted free-kick from the right was nodded goalwards by Ramsey and impressively saved by Thackeray.

There was a slight delay after that, with an assistant referee unable to continue after picking up an injury, and to the relief of everyone present, a replacement from the crowd stepped forward to ensure the tie could continue.

Billingham came back from the short break with an extra spring in their step, and Lawson did brilliantly to keep the Mariners on level terms.

Daniel Ballantyne got through on the left of the box, and after Lawson parried his initial effort, he picked himself up to charge the Billingham striker down and deny him for a second time.

Shields suffered a blow when defender Aron Burn was forced off with a hamstring injury, and Craig Roberts came on in his place.

Immediately, Billingham took the lead as the Mariners – who were still looking to get organised after the switch – were caught cold.

Matthew Dixon sent in an inch-perfect cross from the left which found Whensley in space eight yards out, and he headed the ball back from where it came and into the top corner, with all 22 players seemingly motionless as it arched its way in.

Shields went in at half-time a goal behind, and knew they would have the advantage of the wind at their backs after the break.

A tactical switch saw Roberts pushed forward into a more attacking position, and the Mariners looked much more threatening.

Their best opportunities to get back on level terms came in the first five minutes of the second half, though, and they were unable to take them.

The tireless Riding – who sent in a series of long throws during the game – sent in a free-kick from the right which was headed out to Chris Renshaw on the edge of the box. His effort was tame, though, and held by Thackeray.

On 48 minutes, Ramsey held the ball up well and played it to Maitland inside the box, and after he sidestepped a defender, his powerful shot was palmed away by Thackeray. It was arguably Shields’ best chance of the game.

They continued to press, but frustration began to show when Ramsey was yellow carded for a foul on Stephen Jackson before the striker flicked an effort soon after into Thackeray’s hands.

Billingham were solid at the back and able to deal with most of what their visitors threw at them, and they almost went two goals up just after the hour mark.

The Mariners gave away possession at the back and presented the ball to Jackson, who cut inside from the left before curling a low shot just past the post.

At the other end, Chris Rue sliced an effort wide before Kane was introduced at the expense of Maitland with 64 minutes on the clock.

He was involved immediately as Riding launched a cross from the right, with Kane having two stabs at the ball without making clean contact, before a foul was given.

Shields were again grateful to the reflexes of Lawson for keeping them in the game soon after. A quick cross from the left found Brown in the centre of the box, and his snap shot was brilliantly parried by Lawson, with the rebound then superbly blocked by Riding.

Kane tried to influence proceedings for Shields, but a 40 yard shot went well wide, while a drilled corner from James Talbot was deflected narrowly off target.

The visitors’ last realistic chance of making the final effectively disappeared 13 minutes before full-time after Ramsey committed another late foul on Jackson, with referee Adam Williamson having no hesitation in showing him a second yellow card.

Chris Feasey was introduced from the bench for Shields, and he impressed on the left flank in the closing stages as he looked to help create an unlikely equaliser.

A Feasey cross was headed behind, while a terrific free-kick from Talbot just missed everyone, but Billingham almost wrapped the game up as it ticked into added time.

A counter attack led to a ball being played through for Joshua Keogh, but again Lawson was on hand to keep the score at 1-0 before the Billingham player sent the rebound over.

It was to have no impact on the outcome, though, as the hosts saw out the stoppage time comfortably to book their place in the final.

For Shields, they are now left to focus on the remaining league fixtures, and ironically, their next game is against Billingham at Peterlee on Saturday. Kick-off is at 3pm.

BILLINGHAM TOWN: Thackeray, Redman, Dixon (Callender 46), Jackson, Bishop, Wray, Keogh, Whensley (Dalton 83), Ballantyne, Brown (Lambert 79), Browne (c). Subs (from): A Taylor, Smith.

Goal: Whensley (38).

SOUTH SHIELDS: Lawson, Rue (Feasey 76), Turner, Burn (Roberts 37), Locke (c), Riding, Smith, Maitland (Kane 64), Ramsey, Talbot, Renshaw. Subs not used: Kempster, Hubery.

Sent off: Ramsey (77).