South Shields suffered their first league away loss of the season as Ryhope CW closed the gap at the top of Ebac Northern League Division Two.
The Mariners now lead the table by six points, and second-placed Ryhope have a game in hand following their 3-2 victory.
Shields found themselves 2-1 down at half-time, with the hosts scoring from two set-pieces either side of a well-taken header by Lewis Teasdale.
A third Ryhope goal left the Mariners with much to do in the closing stages, and despite a tremendous free-kick by John Grey on his debut, they could not quite do enough to snatch a point as their 14-match unbeaten run in the league came to an end.
It capped a frustrating few days for Shields following Wednesday’s defeat to Morpeth Town on penalties in the FA Vase.
From the early stages, it was clear that Ryhope were going to present them with a stern test, with the hosts quick to put their opponents under pressure.
An early warning shot was fired when Josh Home-Jackson’s powerful effort was deflected over the bar, while at the other end, Ben Riding had a decent attempt blocked.
Ryhope had started the stronger of the two sides, and Shields were twice indebted to Riding for keeping them at bay as he made two impressive sliding tackles.
A big opportunity for the home side arrived in the 16th minute when Nathan O’Neill passed the ball across the box to Conor Winter, but he spooned it well over as the Mariners were given a let-off.
However, it was to prove a temporary reprieve, with Ryhope scoring in the next minute. David Gordon’s low corner from the right was played back to him by Kyle Davis, and he then curled in a delivery which O’Neill got his head to first. Shields goalkeeper Scott Pocklington managed to get a hand on the effort, but that only diverted it into the air before the ball looped into the bottom corner.
The home side went close twice more soon after, with first a header from Daryll Hall almost dropping into his own net before being palmed over by Pocklington, and then an effort from Davis going wide.
Shields were stung into action, and some positive play down the right led to a powerful effort from Adam Sakr from a tight angle which Christopher Rookes tipped behind.
On 25 minutes, the Mariners pulled level when Danny Carson curled in a superb cross from the right and Teasdale met it with an equally good header as he guided the ball past Rookes.
Barrie Smith and Teasdale clipped shots wide as the league leaders looked to go in front, but they were caught out at the other end from a Gordon corner.
The left-back’s delivery proved menacing, and Pocklington committed himself to it as he opted to punch. However, he was unable to get clean contact on it as it bounced into the air before looping down on the goal-line, where Winter forced it in.
The Mariners had a good spell between conceding that goal and half-time, but were unable to make their pressure count.
Michael Turner found Warren Byrne with a superb ball on the left, and the striker ran through on goal before seeing his low effort excellently kept out by the foot of Rookes.
Another chance arrived when Leepaul Scroggins burst through the centre, beating two challenges before having his shot blocked as he looked set to score.
In the last action of the half, Shields went agonisingly close to drawing level when Carson swung in a cross from the right which deceived Rookes and hit the inside of the far post before somehow bouncing to safety.
Shields continued their positive play after-half-time, with a ball across the box from Carson just cut out before it could reach Byrne, while Scroggins sent a powerful free-kick towards goal which was turned behind.
At the other end, Pocklington held an effort from Davis, but it was mainly the Mariners making an impression going forward.
Grey was introduced for his debut for the club just after the hour mark, after which David Foley suffered frustration when his goal-bound effort was inadvertently blocked by team-mate Scroggins.
Foley was also denied by two blocks from home defenders as Shields continued to be kept at bay, while Smith smashed one not far wide from distance.
The Mariners were caught out at the other end 13 minutes from the end, though, when a Ryhope throw-in from the right was worked to Stephen Francis, whose first-time ball through the centre was met by Home-Jackson and diverted low past Pocklington.
That left Shields with a lot of work to do to salvage even a point, but Grey fired a warning to the hosts on 79 minutes when he curled in a superb free-kick from the right which just eluded everyone.
When he lined up a free-kick slightly closer to goal with seven minutes remaining, there was only one thing on the debutant’s mind.
Grey smashed the ball into the top corner to mark the start of his Shields career in style and give his side a fighting chance of taking something back to South Tyneside.
The hosts could have snuffed out those hopes soon after, but Pocklington kept out a low effort from substitute Damien Stevens when he broke clear.
Shields were denied a penalty with two minutes left when Teasdale’s dink into the box struck a defender and sparked huge appeals from on the pitch and on the terraces, where the visiting supporters had backed their team to the hilt throughout the game.
Further hope was given to the Mariners as the match ticked into stoppage time when Gordon was sent off for a second booking, seemingly for time wasting.
With the home side trying everything to see the game out, the referee opted to play seven minutes of stoppage time, and Shields threw all they could at their opponents.
Pocklington came up for two corners and the ball almost broke for Shields players in the box, but it was not to be as Ryhope continued to scramble it clear as they held onto a precious three points.
The Mariners will be back in action on Tuesday as they travel to Consett in the Durham Challenge Cup.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Carson, Turner, Hall, Riding (Grey 61), Smith, Sakr (Bulford 74), Scroggins (c), Byrne, Teasdale, Foley. Subs not used: Young, Briggs, Hassan.
Goals: Teasdale (25), Grey (83).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.