South Shields 1-1 Morpeth Town: Late goal denies Mariners
Morpeth Town struck a stoppage time equaliser as South Shields were denied the chance to wrap up the Northern League title on Saturday.
Shields were on course for their 33rd win in a row when Carl Finnigan stabbed them in front early on in front of a Mariners Park crowd of over 2,000.
It was a lead they held until a minute into second half stoppage time, when Morpeth substitute Mark Davison headed in a corner to keep their own title hopes alive.
The result kept the Mariners seven points clear of their opponents in the table, with the Highwaymen having three games left to play, compared to Shields’ two.
Shields will get another chance to seal the title on Tuesday, when they travel to Ashington knowing a win would be enough.
They had enjoyed a dream start against Morpeth, taking the lead within the opening three minutes.
A Wayne Phillips free-kick from the right flank was headed across goal by Jon Shaw and into the path of Finnigan, who took a touch before rifling low into the net as he scored his fourth goal in two games.
Despite that early goal, both teams struggled to find their best form in tricky, windy conditions.
Shields had the better opportunities, particularly in the first half, but could not grab that all-important second goal.
The closest they came was when a clipped ball over the top was raced onto by Gavin Cogdon, who flicked it over onrushing goalkeeper Karl Dryden before sending a tame effort goalwards which was easily cleared by the head of Chris Reid.
Phillips hit a shot into the side netting and David Foley fizzed a ball across the box which begged a touch, but did not get one, as the Mariners took a one-goal lead into the break.
They almost doubled that advantage just 15 seconds into the second half when Cogdon found himself in space on the inside-right of the box, but he drilled the ball across goal and it narrowly went past the post.
Shields’ rhythm was disrupted somewhat when Craig Baxter had to be brought off with just over an hour played because of a fractured wrist.
Louis Storey replaced him and slotted in alongside Jon Shaw at centre-back, with Darren Lough moved to left-back and Anthony Callaghan switched to the opposite side.
Thereafter followed Morpeth’s best spell of the game, with first captain Keith Graydon curling a free-kick wide and then Liam Connell called upon to make an excellent fingertip stop to deny Liam Henderson.
Joe Walton also smashed an effort not far over from 20 yards, but Shields got through that slight onslaught and went on to control the ball again.
They had three good chances to make it 2-0, and the closest they came was when Finnigan latched onto an excellent through ball by Julio Arca, only to be denied by the foot of Dryden as the goalkeeper made a superb save.
Gavin Cogdon skewed a shot wide when Dryden’s punch later in the match fell to his feet, while Michael Richardson also mis-hit an effort off target as Shields were unable to make their pressure count.
It looked unlikely to cost them, with the Mariners still looking the more likely team to score, and Robert Briggs was the next to try his luck as he fired over from the edge of the box.
The game appeared to be petering out and Shields were ready to celebrate, only to be hit by a sucker punch a minute into stoppage time.
A drilled corner from the right by Sean Taylor went over the heads of both sets of players until it reached Mark Davison at the back post, and he nodded into the bottom corner to earn the Highwaymen a point.
At the end, the Mariners players started to trudge off with their heads bowed, until the reaction of their supporters told them that the general feeling in the ground was slight frustration, rather than disappointment.
They showed their appreciation for the fine efforts of the players throughout the season at Mariners Park, with all concerned now hoping the celebrations come on Tuesday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter (Storey 61), Callaghan, Shaw, Lough, Arca (c), Stephenson (Briggs 84), Phillips, Cogdon, Finnigan, Foley (Richardson 70). Subs not used: Smith, Petrache.
Goal: Finnigan (3).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.