South Shields 0-0 Billingham Town
By Daniel Prince
South Shields and Billingham Town were unable to break the deadlock as they played out a 0-0 draw in blustery conditions at Peterlee on Saturday.
It was Shields’ first goalless game in over a year, as they had not been involved in a 0-0 since facing Willington on March 1, 2014, while it was also their first draw of any kind at home this season.
The weather meant it was difficult for both sides to produce their best football as they met for the second time in four days.
Billingham had beaten Shields 1-0 in the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup semi-final, and they might have taken three points from this Ebac Northern League Division Two encounter had it not been for a fine performance from stand-in Mariners goalkeeper Christopher Davidson.
Davidson, who usually plays for Wearside League outfit Horden, made his second appearance for Shields, with Niki Lawson and Steven Hubery unavailable.
And if it wasn’t for a superb stoppage-time save, Shields would have had to face up to a third defeat in a row.
A draw was a fair result, though, with neither team having truly done enough to win.
Chris Feasey replaced the injured Aron Burn in Shields’ line-up for the game, while Davidson and Paul Kane were also handed starts.
Billingham had the wind at their backs in the first half, but there were few real chances in the opening stages.
Ben Bonner shot wide from the edge of the box, while Andrew Lambert tried to catch Davidson out with a shot from close to the halfway line, but the goalkeeper easily gathered the ball.
The Mariners looked dangerous when they attacked later in the half, with James Talbot firing an effort which struck the back of Stephen Jackson before bouncing away.
The hosts’ first decent opportunity arrived on 26 minutes when Feasey’s left-wing cross was nodded back by Kane to Stephen Ramsey, but his volley was well held by Billingham goalkeeper Corey Smith.
Davidson produced a good stop two minutes later to deny Daniel Ballantyne after he wriggled past his markers on the left before sending in a low shot that the goalkeeper did well to tip behind.
He made an even better save soon after when Ballantyne sent Bonner through on goal, with Davidson closing the angle before smothering the effort.
He also held a low effort from Alan Taylor, while a minute before half-time, Jackson sent a half-volley wide.
On the stroke of the break, Shields came close to taking the lead when the ball dropped to Ben Riding in the box, but his prodded effort was blocked by Daniel Wray.
The Mariners came out for the second half with real energy, and knew they would now have the advantage of having the wind at their backs.
They immediately set about capitalising on that, but were just unable to break through.
Riding curled in a free-kick from deep on the right and the wind sent it towards the top corner, but Smith did well to claw it over his crossbar.
On 51 minutes, Talbot got through on the inside-right of the box and pulled the ball across to Ramsey, but he just couldn’t get his toe to it and the chance went.
Almost immediately, Kane picked the ball up 25 yards out and smashed an effort which whistled towards goal before hitting the top of the side netting.
Kane had a placed shot saved as Shields continued to try to get their noses in front, and at that stage, it looked just a matter of time before the hosts scored.
However, the goal did not arrive, and Billingham dug in, denying Shields too many more chances, and also creating some opportunities of their own.
Jackson changed the momentum of the game by dribbling through on the left. He looked likely to score, but then tried to pull the ball across goal, and Michael Turner cut out the cross.
The match then entered a quiet period, with the next goalmouth action coming on 74 minutes.
Jackson overhit a cross from the right for Billingham, and Davidson had to get fingertips on it to divert the ball over the bar.
From the resulting corner, the ball dropped to substitute Ian Bishop, but he prodded wide.
The visitors came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock twice in the closing stages, with Shields unable to create a clear-cut opportunity of their own.
With four minutes left, Joel Callender got in behind the Shields defence on the inside-left of the box, and powered a shot which squirmed under Davidson before Chris Locke sprinted to clear it off the line, before colliding with the post.
The Mariners’ only real chance late on fell to Chris Rue, who fired over, but Billingham thought they had won it two minutes into stoppage time.
Lambert curled a free-kick from 25 yards which was destined for the top corner before Davidson leapt to his right, tipping the ball onto the crossbar.
It then bounced down and into the danger area, but Shields were able to hack the ball clear and claim a point.
The Mariners are next in action next Saturday, with Seaham Red Star the visitors to Peterlee from 3pm.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Davidson, Rue, Turner, Locke (c), Riding, Renshaw, Talbot, Smith, Ramsey (Maitland 83), Kane, Feasey. Subs not used: Bolam, Fixot, Roberts.
BILLINGHAM TOWN: Smith, Ballantyne (Redman 57), A Taylor, Jackson, Dixon, Wray, Dalton (Bishop 64), Whensley, Bonner (Callender 77), Lambert (c), Browne. Subs not used: Thackeray, H Taylor.