South Shields’ incredible 45-match unbeaten run came to an end on Saturday as Colwyn Bay ran out 4-2 winners in EVO-STIK North.
The Mariners had not tasted defeat since November 5, 2016, and had won 44 of their 45 games since then.
However, they gave themselves too much to do in North Wales after falling 3-0 behind in the first half.
Shields tried to launch a second half comeback, and after Alex Nicholson pulled a goal back, they looked to have found a way back into it when they were awarded a penalty.
However, Michael Richardson’s spot-kick was brilliantly saved by home goalkeeper Matt Cooper and Colwyn Bay scored again to make the three points safe.
Substitute Luke Sullivan got on the scoresheet deep into stoppage time for the Mariners, but it was too late for any dramatic fightback.
Shields had started the game well, and created a great chance to open the scoring in just the fourth minute as some tricky play by Jamie Holmes down the left led to a cut-back for Gavin Cogdon, whose effort lacked the power to beat Cooper from eight yards.
The visitors went closer again soon after when a glorious ball into the box by Robert Briggs was headed towards goal by Nicholson. It looped in the air before bouncing back off the crossbar, and the rebound was skewed wide by an off-balance Craig Baxter.
It was a bright start from the Mariners, who created another opportunity when Briggs saw a shot from the edge of the box blocked.
However, they were unable to build on that, and only a fine interception from Jon Shaw prevented Colwyn Bay opening the scoring as he atoned for giving the ball away seconds earlier.
The reprieve for Shields was temporary, though. In the 10th minute, a corner from the right by Louis Barnes was flicked on at the front post by Astley Mulholland and then diverted across the area by Jack Hindle, with captain Sam Barnes on hand to hammer the ball into the net via the bar from close range.
The Mariners looked for an instant response, and Carl Finnigan tried to provide it within 10 seconds of the restart, but his effort from 25 yards went well wide.
Colwyn Bay doubled their lead on 17 minutes as Cooper’s goal kick was flicked on first by Hindle and then Danny Andrews. Mulholland raced onto it and dispossessed Shaw before running through on goal and rifling past Liam Connell.
The Mariners continued to produce some good play in patches, and almost pulled one goal back when Cogdon played Baxter in on the inside-right of the box, and his cross bounced just beyond Finnigan as he seemed set to head it in.
At the other end, the home side’s frontmen continued to cause problems, and Mulholland went close to making it 3-0 as he cut inside before firing a low effort which Connell did well to palm to safety.
Holmes always looked dangerous coming in from the left flank for the Mariners, and another moment of fine play from him almost led to a goal as he tricked his way past a defender and into a great position, only for his pass across goal to be well cleared.
Try as they might, Shields just could not get what could have been a vital goal in the first half.
They went close again when Holmes cut inside from the left and his shot took a deflection before spinning against the post, and then agonisingly away from Finnigan, who was waiting to pounce on the rebound.
Colwyn Bay were awarded a controversial penalty with three minutes remaining in the first half when Hindle went down under a challenge from Shaw. Replays appeared to show that contact – if any – had been made outside the penalty area, but the referee pointed to the spot.
Hindle himself stepped up to take the penalty, and sent Connell the wrong way to secure a three-goal lead for his side at the interval.
It almost got worse for Shields just a minute into the second half as Andrews excellently played in Hindle, but he hammered the ball wide to let the visitors off the hook.
The Mariners started to gather momentum after that, and their first chance fell the way of Nicholson, whose sweet strike was too central and was well held by Cooper.
Then came another moment of controversy after some impressive interplay led to Holmes bearing down on goal, and just as he was about to pull the trigger, he appeared to be knocked off balance and fell to the floor. The referee waved play on.
Shields finally got on the scoresheet just after the hour mark to breathe new life into their comeback bid. A Briggs cross from the right was sent across goal by Cogdon and then brilliantly fired home from a tight angle by Nicholson as he scored his second goal for the club.
It would be wrong to say that it was all one-way traffic after that, though, as Colwyn Bay had good opportunities to make the points safe.
Hindle created space for himself in the area and pulled the ball back to Mulholland, whose effort was cleared off the line by Shaw as Shields breathed a sigh of relief.
Soon after that, it was Hindle’s turn to go close as he beat Baxter before blasting the ball goalwards, and his attempt was brilliantly kicked clear by Connell.
Shields broke from the resulting corner and created an opportunity of their own, with Holmes shooting not far over from 12 yards.
Another opportunity came and went as Briggs’ effort from the edge of the box was well saved by Cooper, but the Mariners kept the ball alive and were awarded a penalty when Briggs was adjudged to have been tripped in the area.
Richardson immediately signalled that he wanted to take it, but Cooper produced a brilliant save to his right and it appeared that it was not to be the Mariners’ day.
They struggled to recover from that blow, and the home side made the points safe as Hindle superbly beat Nicholson on the left before running into the box and placing a shot to perfection into the bottom corner.
Shields kept going and pulled a goal back seven minutes into added time when Sullivan showed great strength and persistence to beat his defender before forcing a shot under Cooper.
Despite the defeat, the Mariners remained top of EVO-STIK North, and they will hope to bounce back when they travel to Colne on Tuesday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Callaghan, Shaw, Storey (Morse 59), Arca (c), Briggs, Nicholson, Cogdon, Finnigan (Richardson 59), Holmes (Sullivan 71). Subs not used: Norton, Smith.
Goals: Nicholson (62), Sullivan (90+7).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Bob Scott.