Darlington RA 1-2 South Shields
By Philip Reay
South Shields returned to winning ways on Saturday with a hard-fought 2-1 victory at sixth-placed Darlington RA in Ebac Northern League Division Two.
Games with Darlington RA over the last two seasons have been highly entertaining and full of goals, with 31 in the last four fixtures, and spectators were not to be disappointed on Saturday.
The game almost fell foul of the great British weather, and only went ahead due to the hard work of the Darlington RA committee members.
The players from both sides found it difficult to get to grips with a heavy pitch, and the early stages became a hard-fought midfield battle.
The first clear scoring opportunity of the game fell to South Shields with the game approaching the 10th minute.
Ben Riding, making a return to South Shields, won the ball in the centre of the park before playing a long ball wide to James Talbot on the right flank.
Talbot turned away from his marker before firing a cross towards Lee Maitland on the edge of the Darlington box, and he headed the ball into the path of another returning player, Chris Renshaw, who swept the ball over the head of Philip Pentony to put the Mariners a goal to the good.
Darlington responded from the restart as Stephen Cheeseman played the ball over the Shields defence for Freddie Huscroft, but the Darlington striker fired high over the bar.
Shields again began to dominate play, and with the game approaching the 20th minute they broke forward.
Renshaw played the ball into the path of Maitland, but his progress was halted 30 yards from goal. Chris Rue fired the resulting free-kick into the box, and it was headed out by Liam Browne as far as Barrie Smith, but his shot flew over the bar.
In their first attack of note, Darlington were awarded a free-kick wide on the right.
Nathan Wilson fired the ball into the Shields box, where Phillip Caley ghosted through a static Shields defence to head the ball into the roof of the net to restore parity.
With the clock approaching the 30 minute mark, James Talbot broke down the right flank before playing the ball to Renshaw, and he in turn found Smith in space on the edge of the box, but he was denied by a superb fingertip save by Pentony.
Talbot floated the resulting corner into the box for Paul Kane, but he headed the ball wide of the post.
Darlington again responded when Josh Bynoe collected a loose pass from Niki Lawson and fired a shot at goal from 25 yards, and fortunately for Shields, Lawson recovered from his error to make a good save.
Darlington maintained the pressure on the Shields defence, and a minute later, with Lawson out of position, Caley fired the ball towards an empty net, but Aron Burn was on hand to hack the ball off the line to keep the scores level.
From the clearance, the Mariners pressed forward. Kane picked the ball up on the left and crossed the ball to Talbot, but his cross floated harmlessly over the bar.
A minute later, Talbot was more successful as he outpaced his marker on the right and fired the ball into the path of Kane, and he fired in his 20th goal of the season to restore the Shields advantage.
That was to be the last attack of note in the half, and the sides went into the break with Shields holding a slender advantage.
Darlington started the second half on the front foot. Caley played the ball into the path of Huscroft, but his shot from the angle of the box flew over the bar.
On the hour, Talbot again caused problems for the Darlington defence when he raced down the right flank before finding Smith in space on the edge of the box, but his shot was tipped over by Pentony.
Shields continued to press forward, and Chris Locke combined with Talbot to release Smith, but he was again denied by Pentony.
With the second half approaching the midpoint, Darlington pressed forward, and a long ball from Cheeseman fell into the path of Caley.
He raced through the Shields defence, but a superb point blank save by Lawson maintained the Shields advantage.
With 20 minutes remaining, Smith collected the ball from Renshaw and outpaced the Darlington defence on the left before slipping the ball into the path of Kane, but the striker fired his shot inches wide.
Shields continued to dominate the game, but were unable to break through a resolute Darlington defence.
On 75 minutes, a Shields corner was fired into the box by Talbot, and the ball fell for Smith. His shot was parried by Pentony into the path of Riding, and the goalkeeper reacted quickly to deny him as well.
A minute later, the Mariners again went close when Talbot floated the ball into the box and Burn rose above the defence to head towards goal, only to be denied by Pentony.
Shields thought they had increased their advantage on 80 minutes as Smith collected a ball from Maitland, but the celebrations were short lived as the assistant referee flagged for offside.
In the closing stages, Shields had further chances as Smith and Kane were both denied by Pentony, but they had done enough to claim a hard-fought victory.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Lawson, Rue, Feasey, Burn, Riding, Locke (c), Talbot, Renshaw, Maitland, Smith, Kane. Subs not used: Renton, Hubery, Conroy, Ramsey, Crutwell.
Goals: Renshaw (10), Kane (36).