South Shields brought their pre-season to a close as they earned a creditable 2-2 draw against a strong Blyth Spartans side at Mariners Park.
The Mariners were taking on a team currently operating three leagues higher than them, having narrowly missed out on the Northern Premier League Premier Division play-offs last time out.
Although Blyth’s quality shone through at times, Shields more than matched them for long spells, and could have walked away with a victory after missing two good chances in the closing stages.
Blyth included the likes of Stephen Turnbull, Paul Robinson and Robbie Dale in a strong starting line-up, and although they started brightly, the visitors fell behind 13 minutes in.
Wayne Phillips sent in a deep cross from the left which caused real problems for Blyth goalkeeper Adam McHugh, who palmed it to Lee Scott on the inside-right of the box. First-time, he hooked the ball back into the centre, where Aris Lokonga Guerin was on hand to head home from inside the six-yard box.
Shields had got off to the perfect start in front of a crowd of about 400, but their delight did not last long.
Daryll Hall tripped Arron Wearmouth just inside the box on the left, and Turnbull, from South Shields, sent Gareth Young the wrong way from the spot to bring his side level.
Midfielder Turnbull proved to be a thorn in Shields’ side, and on 21 minutes, he completed the turnaround when he put Spartans ahead. After picking up the ball just outside the box on the left, he dribbled inside the area and then sent a superb shot into the top corner from an acute angle.
The quick change in fortunes gave Blyth real confidence, and they went on to have much the better of the next period.
Some great play led to Robinson being released in the box, with only Young to beat, but he chipped the ball wide of the post and the gap between the sides remained at one goal.
Another chance came and went for the visitors when Neal Hooks’ header was held by Young, and the Mariners were restricted to half-chances, with Lee McMahon drilling wide from 25 yards and Scott being beaten to the ball by a defender after a superb Phillips cross.
Blyth were presented with an opportunity to make it 3-1 five minutes before half-time when Shields gave the ball away at the back, but with defenders despairing, Hooks chipped it just over the bar.
Leepaul Scroggins, Jonny Wightman and Ryan Beal came on at the break, and Shields immediately looked more threatening in the second period.
David Foley created a chance for Scott with a firm cross from the right, but it was just behind the striker, who was off balance and ultimately sent his header off target.
Smith was denied with a long-range strike, but further Shields changes on the hour mark – with Michael Turner and Gilberto Chapim introduced – proved crucial.
Turner took just six minutes after his introduction to bring the Mariners level. Phillips swung in a terrific free-kick from the right, and Turner rose above his markers before sending a powerful header towards goal that the Blyth goalkeeper was unable to keep out.
Spartans responded well without creating any clear-cut opportunities, and in the latter stages, it was Shields who almost took the win.
Wightman dinked a free-kick from the right which beat the goalkeeper, but seemed to catch Turner by surprise as he diverted his header narrowly wide.
A final opportunity fell to another substitute, Joe Melvin, who was found by Stephen Ramsey just outside the box and then sent a powerful shot which bounced just past the post.
Both sides were then forced to settle for a draw, which sets Shields up nicely for Saturday’s Ebac Northern League Division Two opener against Northallerton Town at Mariners Park, which will kick-off at 3pm.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Young (Beal 46), Smith, Galpin, Hall (Turner 60), Buchanan, Ball (Scroggins 46), Foley (Heptinstall 82), McMahon (Chapim 60), Guerin (Wightman 46), Scott (Melvin 69), Phillips (Ramsey 71).
Goals: Guerin (13), Turner (66).
BLYTH SPARTANS: McHugh, Mullen, Watson, Morse, Hutchinson, Turnbull, Bell, Robinson, Wearmouth, Hooks, Dale. Subs (from): Wade, Richardson, Nicholson, Bramley, trialist, trialist, trialist.
Goals: Turnbull (pen 16, 21).
Winning raffle number: 461-465.