Stalybridge Celtic 2-2 South Shields: Mariners pegged back twice
Two Darius Osei goals denied South Shields all three points as Stalybridge Celtic twice fought back from a goal down to earn a share of the spoils at Bower Fold.
The Mariners took an early lead when Wouter Verstraaten prodded home from a corner but were pegged back when Osei converted a penalty midway through the first half.
Stalybridge produced an impressive performance to seriously threaten the league leaders, but Shields went back in front just after the hour mark with a Robert Briggs penalty.
Most in attendance would agree that a draw was a fair result, though, and a smart turn and finish from Osei with six minutes remaining earned Stalybridge a point.
The result moved the Mariners a point clear at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division ahead of Tuesday’s derby trip to Morpeth Town.
Shields handed a debut to Ryan Whitley after he joined on loan from York City on the eve of the game and he was called into action as early as the fourth minute when Adam O’Reilly advanced into a dangerous position on the inside-left of the box and the goalkeeper was alert to close the angle and make the save.
The first goal of the game arrived from a Nathan Lowe corner for the Mariners on 12 minutes as he delivered a teasing ball from the left which bounced in the area before being rifled low into the net by Verstraaten as he registered his first goal for the club.
Verstraaten, making his first league start, had an opportunity for another soon after as Callum Ross found him on the right of the box, but this time his effort lacked the power needed to seriously test Alex Fojticek in the Stalybridge goal.
The home side showed their capabilities going forward with a two-minute burst of action around the 20-minute mark and their pressure paid off when they were awarded a penalty for a foul by Jon Shaw.
Osei tucked his spot-kick into the bottom corner to level the scores and he almost added a tremendous second in the 30th minute as he robbed Shields of possession in the middle before driving forward and crashing a shot against the post from 20 yards.
The same player had another chance for a second before half-time when he was picked out on the right of the area but his effort across goal drifted past the post.
The Mariners lost captain Shaw to a groin injury five minutes before the break and that forced a reshuffle, with Briggs introduced from the bench and Verstraaten moved into a defensive role.
The visitors showed signs of improvement at the start of the second half and had an early opportunity as Craig Baxter’s cross found the head of Sefton Gonzales but the ball went wide.
On a number of occasions, Stalybridge tried to catch Shields out with blistering efforts from distance but they all cleared the crossbar, although attempts by Scott Metcalfe and Osei did not miss the target by much.
It was the Mariners who made the vital next move in the game though as Mason received the ball in the area and was bundled to the floor, resulting in the referee awarding a second penalty of the match.
Briggs rattled his spot-kick down the middle to put his side back in front.
Jason Gilchrist, Mason and Gonzales all went close in a quick flurry but Stalybridge cranked up the pressure at the other end and got their reward in the 84th minute when Osei turned smartly and finished equally well for his second goal of the afternoon.
The best chance for a late winner fell to Gonzales as he nicked the ball high up the pitch on the right but Fojticek closed the angle and made a smothering save.
The result kept Shields at the top of the table and they will hope to return to winning ways on the eagerly awaited trip to Morpeth.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Whitley, Hunter, Baxter, Shaw (c) (Briggs 40), Morse, Turnbull (Mason 46), Verstraaten, Ross, Gilchrist (Gillies 83), Lowe, Gonzales. Subs not used: Boney, Thompson.
Goals: Verstraaten (12), Briggs (pen 61).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.