South Shields 1-1 Warrington Town: Brilliant 10-man Mariners battle to point
South Shields battled to a 1-1 draw against fellow promotion hopefuls Warrington Town with a superb performance after playing more than half of the fiery league clash with 10 men.
The sides were level at 1-1 when Nathan Lowe was shown a straight red card shortly before half-time for a challenge in midfield.
Ben Garrity’s 21st-minute opener for the Yellows – who beat Shields three times last season – was brilliantly cancelled out by Robert Briggs before the game-changing moment of Lowe’s dismissal.
The Mariners switched shape at half-time and an energetic, pulsating second half performance will have left them feeling unfortunate not to have sent their third-placed opponents home as a beaten team.
Teenage left-back Kieran Charlton replaced the injured Blair Adams in the only change to the Shields team which beat Stourbridge 4-0 in the Buildbase FA Trophy four days earlier.
Charlton impressed as early as the fourth minute with two well-timed tackles which will have settled any nerves, with the crowd of over 1,500 giving him plenty of encouragement.
It was an even opening to the game but Warrington produced an impressive four-minute spell which culminated in the first goal of the afternoon.
Mitchell Duggan firstly stung the palms of Myles Boney with a powerful strike from the edge of the box, before the Shields goalkeeper was forced into a more testing stop as he superbly tipped a free-kick from Louis Barnes over the bar.
The Yellows broke the deadlock from the following corner after a well-worked routine which saw the ball dinked into the box from the left before being headed on and eventually prodded marginally over the line by Garrity, despite the best efforts of Craig Baxter to clear.
Shields’ response was strong and after a period of patient possession, they drew back on level terms on the half-hour mark as Baxter teed up Briggs and he hit it first time into the top corner.
It was a frantic spell of the game and Warrington almost reclaimed the lead soon after when Tony Gray connected with a low cross from the right and saw the ball kiss the crossbar before bouncing two yards from the goal-line, when the spin on it took it away for a corner.
The Mariners then had their best spell of the first half as they began to put the Yellows under pressure, and the closest they came was a low strike from distance from Lowe which was fumbled behind by goalkeeper Tony McMillan.
Lowe was to be involved in an even more important moment a minute before half-time when he caught Duggan and the referee immediately brandished a red card.
The half-time whistle gave Shields a chance to regroup and Lee Picton and Graham Fenton used the interval to change formation, with captain Jon Shaw moving into defence to form a back three with Gary Brown and Dillon Morse, with Charlton and Jordan Hunter pushed into wing-back roles.
Twelve minutes into the second half they introduced Arron Thompson – recalled from a loan spell at West Auckland Town on the eve of the game – in place of Phil Turnbull and he produced an impressive and energetic display which fully justified his inclusion.
Warrington had opportunities to go back in front, with Grey firing just past the post from the edge of the box and Boney producing a smart save from a corner.
Adam Thurston was brought on after 65 minutes and his introduction injected even more energy into Shields’ play as the crowd roared the home side on and belief grew that maximum points were still attainable.
Shields almost found the breakthrough when Jason Gilchrist held the ball up brilliantly and played in Thompson, who in turn found Thurston. He shifted the ball onto his right foot and his deflected effort almost wrong-footed McMillan, who stuck out a hand and superbly clawed it to safety.
The Mariners kept the ball alive and the impressive Hunter cut onto his left foot before rifling a shot just over as Shields began to pressurise their opponents, with the crowd fully involved by this stage.
What would have proved to be the winning goal eluded them, though, with Baxter shooting over from long range and Morse having an effort from a Thurston free-kick smothered by McMillan.
A point was the least Shields deserved for their efforts and kept them one clear of Lancaster City at the top of the table heading into next Saturday’s Buildbase FA Trophy first round tie at home to Southport.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Charlton, Turnbull (Thompson 57), Morse, Brown, Baxter, Briggs (Thurston 65), Gilchrist (Alli 85), Lowe, Shaw (c). Subs not used: Coombe, Odelusi.
Goal: Briggs (30).
Red card: Lowe (44).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.