Match Report: FC United of Manchester 0-1 South Shields
JJ Hooper struck a dramatic late winner as South Shields edged past an impressive FC United of Manchester side to keep their title hopes alive at Broadhurst Park.
Hooper fired home the only goal on 89 minutes after the Mariners displayed tremendous resilience and character to keep their hosts at bay.
The result moved Shields level on points with Pitching In Northern Premier League leaders Buxton heading into the final two games of the season, with just goal difference keeping them from top spot.
They came through an all-action encounter in the Manchester sunshine, with many of the key moments centred around the Mariners’ penalty area.
Both sets of supporters contributed to a tremendous atmosphere but it was the hosts who had more to shout about in the early stages, with Regan Linney having a 20 yard shot deflected wide and Jack Bodenham putting his body on the line to make a superb block from Harry McGee.
There were further openings for United, with Josh Askew particularly prominent on the right flank in the first half.
He sent a half volley over after some hesitation in the area and he later nipped in behind the defence before forcing Myles Boney into a close-range save. A further attempt from the FC number seven required a block from Blair Adams to keep Shields on level terms.
The Mariners improved as the game neared half-time but there were more opportunities for the hosts, who almost took the lead when Linney came inside from the left and hit a low effort which was deflected not far past the post.
Shields were now offering more going forward themselves, and Adams proved to be their biggest threat in the closing minutes of the half as he drove his team on.
A fierce, dipping strike from range by the left-back arrowed narrowly over the bar and Adams was then desperately unfortunate not to open the scoring with a header which was destined for the top corner before FC goalkeeper Dan Lavercombe clawed it away.
The home side had a similar hard luck story six minutes into the second half when a powerful McGee header struck the crossbar and bounced onto the line before Shields scrambled the ball to safety.
The Mariners breathed a sigh of relief but there was plenty more defending required to preserve their clean sheet in the final half-hour.
Linney played in McGee down the left of the area and his shot trickled narrowly wide, and a terrific block by Bodenham denied Linney as Shields continued to demonstrate their resilience.
Paul Ennis was the next to eye a goal, but his sweetly-hit volley from the right of the area went past the post.
Darius Osei’s final action came 10 minutes from the end when his half-volley was deflected wide, with Cedric Main introduced in his place before the resulting corner could be taken.
The set-piece ultimately came to nothing but Main went on to have a significant say in proceedings as all three of Shields’ substitutes – Main, Hooper and Mitch Rose – made an impact.
Adams had another chance when he met a Jordan Hunter cross with a header, but Lavercombe was equal to the effort.
With a minute remaining, though, there was nothing the goalkeeper could do.
Main pressured home defender Aaron Morris into surrendering possession on the left flank and advanced into the box, with Hooper making a parallel run with his strike partner.
Main’s shot was blocked by Adam Dodd but the ball broke to Hooper, who swept it home first-time with his left foot to spark jubilant scenes among the vociferous away support behind the goal.
The job was not yet done for Shields, who needed a fine block from Jon Shaw three minutes into stoppage time to seal the three points.
The final whistle was met with joy but the Mariners know there is much work to do if they are to overhaul Buxton’s lead in the final two matches.
They are back in action on Monday when they take on Whitby Town at 1st Cloud Arena.
South Shields: Boney, Hunter, Adams (c), Shaw, Morse, Bodenham, Wilding, Briggs, Hodgson (Hooper 62), McGowan (Rose 67), Osei (Main 80). Subs not used: Kempster, Tee.
Goal: Hooper (89).
Image: Kev Wilson.