South Shields 2 VS 2 Sunderland RCA
The returning Julio Arca salvaged a dramatic point for South Shields as they came from 2-0 down with 10 men to draw with Sunderland RCA.
RCA went 2-0 up with 21 minutes to play just moments after Shields defender Dillon Morse had been sent off.
The Mariners' 12-match unbeaten run looked almost certain to be ended, but they showed tremendous character in the closing stages, with Gavin Cogdon providing a lifeline before a stunning equaliser from Arca four minutes from the end.
There were chances in the closing stages for Shields to claim an incredible victory, but Sam Guthrie in the RCA goal was not beaten again.
The result left the Mariners in second place in Northern League Division One, five points behind leaders North Shields.
The hosts went into Saturday's game at Mariners Park full of confidence, having thrashed Jarrow Roofing 5-0 in the South Tyneside derby four days earlier.
However, they struggled to hit the same heights in the early stages, with RCA looking the most likely side to break the deadlock.
Callum Hassan, in particular, was a threat to the Shields defence, and he had a good chance to open the scoring on three minutes, but Liam Connell made an impressive save with his legs.
At the other end, Luke Hannant had an effort saved by Guthrie, but the Mariners were unable to create many clear-cut opportunities.
Jon Shaw made an excellent block to deny Hassan and John Butler also went close for the visitors as he beat his man in the area before firing wide.
Jonathan Davis tested Connell with a low free-kick in the 23rd minute, and it wasn't until after then that Shields started to take control.
Leepaul Scroggins had a half-volley saved and Robert Briggs flashed an effort wide after a corner was half-cleared to the right of the box.
The closest the Mariners came in this period was when Briggs broke free on the right, and his cross was met by the stretching Carl Finnigan, who diverted it onto the post.
Finnigan also had a header kept out by Guthrie, while Hannant had a glorious chance when he was found by Briggs, but after creating space for himself after touching the ball past a defender, he could only fire over from a good position.
Shields were on top, but they were hit with a sucker punch four minutes before the break.
Greg Swansbury stooped to meet a corner from Davis, and he directed a superb header into the opposite corner to hand RCA the lead.
The goal seemed to affect the Mariners, with RCA looking dangerous in the closing stages of the half as they aimed to go two up.
Their best chance fell to substitute Flavio Pereira Da Veiga, but he could only hit a shot over.
Eight minutes into the second half, Shields joint managers Graham Fenton and Lee Picton introduced Arca and Craig Baxter from the bench.
It was Arca's first appearance since being injured in the 6-1 win over Ryhope CW three weeks earlier.
He made a big difference to Shields' play with his composure on the ball, and they began to take a tighter grip on the game.
Baxter's surging runs down the right were a constant threat to the visitors, and he hit a shot over from the edge of the box, while Arca had a low effort saved.
Briggs headed a Cogdon cross wide, Baxter went close again when Guthrie made an impressive save and Jon Shaw nodded an Arca corner onto the roof of the net.
Shields were unable to make their bright play count, and they were again caught out at the other end as they pressed for an equaliser.
With RCA running through on goal, Morse pulled back their striker and, as the last man, was given a straight red card.
The foul was outside the box, but the visitors made the good position count as Ross McNab hit the free-kick into the bottom corner.
At 2-0 down and a man light, Shields were in need of a quick response, with just more than 20 minutes remaining.
That's just what they did, with Cogdon squeezing in an excellent effort within moments of the restart as he scored in his eighth consecutive appearance.
The Mariners Park crowd of 972 responded with vocal backing for their team, and Finnigan flashed an effort just over as Shields started to pen their opponents back.
The next to go close was Arca as he danced through the defence before having a shot saved, and Baxter also almost equalised when he was played in on the inside right of the box, but Swansbury made a terrific block.
Guthrie denied Cogdon as he closed down the angle before making a fine save, while McNab diverted a Hannant cross onto his own crossbar, with the Mariners dominant at this stage.
Eventually, the equaliser arrived, and it was scored in some style by Arca.
A Briggs corner from the left was headed by substitute Stephen Ramsey and then half-cleared to Arca, 25 yards out.
He took a touch to get the ball out of his feet before whipping a superb effort into the top corner to spark scenes of joyous celebration.
Far from settling for a point, though, Shields pressed for a winner, and almost got it.
Within a minute of the restart, David Carson was found on the edge of the box, and his low effort was destined for the bottom corner before Guthrie tipped it wide.
RCA successfully saw out the game to take a point from what was a breathless encounter, with Shields left with mixed emotions.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Smith (Baxter 53), Danny Carson, David Carson, Morse, Shaw, Cogdon (Ramsey 86), Scroggins (c) (Arca 53), Finnigan, Briggs, Hannant. Subs not used: Carmichael, Phillips.
Goals: Cogdon (70), Arca (86).
Sent off: Morse (68).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.