South Shields 0-1 Matlock Town
South Shields suffered a sucker punch as a late header by Alex Byrne condemned them to a 1-0 home defeat against Matlock Town in the Pitching In Northern Premier League.
After dominating possession throughout the match but failing to make the breakthrough, the Mariners conceded 19 minutes from the end as they were beaten for the second time this season.
In the rarest of occurrences in the first half, Robert Briggs missed the target with a penalty and that summed up Shields’ afternoon after much promising build-up play but no vital killer touch.
Shields had 72% of the ball after lining up in a 3-5-2 formation, with both Blair Adams and Jon Shaw ruled out through injury.
Jordan Hunter and Josh Gillies were the two players introduced to the starting line-up and the Mariners started brightly enough before being awarded a penalty within the first 15 minutes as Jason Gilchrist was tripped in the area.
When Briggs steps up to take a spot-kick the outcome is often considered little more than a formality, such is his excellent record from 12 yards.
This time, however, accuracy evaded the stand-in centre-back as his penalty struck the outside of the post, much to the surprise of the 300 supporters in attendance.
Shields continued to probe well and advanced into threatening positions on numerous occasions, although their final pass did not always reach the intended target.
Hunter had a decent opportunity when Dillon Morse played him in down the side of the area, but the right-back’s powerful drive cleared the crossbar of Matlock goalkeeper Shaun Rowley, who the Mariners will feel was not tested enough over the 90 minutes.
Gillies had an effort blocked, a low cross from Hunter just evaded a vital touch and Alex Kempster headed narrowly wide from a Callum Ross cross as Shields aimed to capitalise on their dominance of the ball, but they had a scare at the other end as first half substitute Joe Bunney found the net for Matlock, only to be correctly denied by the offside flag.
The Mariners’ momentum had faltered in the closing stages of the opening 45 minutes but they re-found it at the start of the second half.
Phil Turnbull was the first to go close as he targeted his first goal for the club, but his strike from outside the area was well saved by Rowley.
Rowley also did well to keep out a free-kick from the left by Briggs, who tried to catch out the goalkeeper at his near post only for the Matlock stopper to get down well and palm it wide.
Shields were knocking at the door and went close twice more as Gilchrist headed over from a Turnbull cross and a delivery from the right by Morse just cleared the crossbar.
This was Rowley’s busiest period of the match and he was called into action again to tip a Gillies shot from distance wide, before then making a superb reaction save when Hunter’s cross fizzed towards goal after a deflection.
The goal was not forthcoming for the home side and, when Matlock launched a rare attack with 19 minutes left, there was an air of inevitability about it.
The Gladiators broke down the left and a dangerous ball into the box was met by an equally impressive run and header from Byrne, who guided it into the corner of the net via the post to give his side even more to cling onto.
They remained resolute despite more Shields pressure in the closing stages, with Gilchrist heading their first chance of an equaliser wide as he got on the end of a Kempster free-kick.
Hunter went close to levelling things up as his drive from 20 yards was tipped over, but the best opportunity arguably fell the way of Dillon Morse, who headed wide from an excellent cross by debutant Ciaren Jones.
There were two further chances deep into stoppage time, but Gilchrist’s header from another Kempster cross went just past the post before Kempster himself sent the ball inches wide from a Hunter cross.
It ultimately proved to be a day when any amount of possession, territory and chances would seemingly not have been enough for Shields, who will aim to bounce back when they host Morpeth Town on Tuesday.
South Shields: Boney, Hunter, Baxter (Jones 77), Ross, Morse, Turnbull, Gillies (McCamley 70), Briggs (c), Gilchrist, Osei, Kempster. Subs not used: Agnew, Verstraaten, Jenkins.
Image: Kev Wilson.