JJ Hooper struck a dramatic late winner as South Shields edged past an impressive FC United of Manchester side to keep their title hopes alive at Broadhurst Park.

Hooper fired home the only goal on 89 minutes after the Mariners displayed tremendous resilience and character to keep their hosts at bay.

The result moved Shields level on points with Pitching In Northern Premier League leaders Buxton heading into the final two games of the season, with just goal difference keeping them from top spot.

They came through an all-action encounter in the Manchester sunshine, with many of the key moments centred around the Mariners’ penalty area.

Both sets of supporters contributed to a tremendous atmosphere but it was the hosts who had more to shout about in the early stages, with Regan Linney having a 20 yard shot deflected wide and Jack Bodenham putting his body on the line to make a superb block from Harry McGee.

There were further openings for United, with Josh Askew particularly prominent on the right flank in the first half.

He sent a half volley over after some hesitation in the area and he later nipped in behind the defence before forcing Myles Boney into a close-range save. A further attempt from the FC number seven required a block from Blair Adams to keep Shields on level terms.

The Mariners improved as the game neared half-time but there were more opportunities for the hosts, who almost took the lead when Linney came inside from the left and hit a low effort which was deflected not far past the post.

Shields were now offering more going forward themselves, and Adams proved to be their biggest threat in the closing minutes of the half as he drove his team on.

A fierce, dipping strike from range by the left-back arrowed narrowly over the bar and Adams was then desperately unfortunate not to open the scoring with a header which was destined for the top corner before FC goalkeeper Dan Lavercombe clawed it away.

The home side had a similar hard luck story six minutes into the second half when a powerful McGee header struck the crossbar and bounced onto the line before Shields scrambled the ball to safety.

The Mariners breathed a sigh of relief but there was plenty more defending required to preserve their clean sheet in the final half-hour.

Linney played in McGee down the left of the area and his shot trickled narrowly wide, and a terrific block by Bodenham denied Linney as Shields continued to demonstrate their resilience.

Paul Ennis was the next to eye a goal, but his sweetly-hit volley from the right of the area went past the post.

Darius Osei’s final action came 10 minutes from the end when his half-volley was deflected wide, with Cedric Main introduced in his place before the resulting corner could be taken.

The set-piece ultimately came to nothing but Main went on to have a significant say in proceedings as all three of Shields’ substitutes – Main, Hooper and Mitch Rose – made an impact.

Adams had another chance when he met a Jordan Hunter cross with a header, but Lavercombe was equal to the effort.

With a minute remaining, though, there was nothing the goalkeeper could do.

Main pressured home defender Aaron Morris into surrendering possession on the left flank and advanced into the box, with Hooper making a parallel run with his strike partner.

Main’s shot was blocked by Adam Dodd but the ball broke to Hooper, who swept it home first-time with his left foot to spark jubilant scenes among the vociferous away support behind the goal.

The job was not yet done for Shields, who needed a fine block from Jon Shaw three minutes into stoppage time to seal the three points.

The final whistle was met with joy but the Mariners know there is much work to do if they are to overhaul Buxton’s lead in the final two matches.

They are back in action on Monday when they take on Whitby Town at 1st Cloud Arena.

South Shields: Boney, Hunter, Adams (c), Shaw, Morse, Bodenham, Wilding, Briggs, Hodgson (Hooper 62), McGowan (Rose 67), Osei (Main 80). Subs not used: Kempster, Tee.

Goal: Hooper (89).

Attendance: 2,198.

Image: Kev Wilson.

South Shields travel to FC United of Manchester on Saturday to kick-off a potentially decisive double-header in the battle for the Pitching In Northern Premier League title (3pm kick-off).

It is the first of two games in three days for the Mariners, who host Whitby Town on Easter Monday.

It could prove to be a crucial weekend, with Kevin Phillips’ side to have just one more league match remaining after it.

They go into Saturday sitting second in the table, two points behind leaders Buxton as the race for the one automatic promotion spot reaches an exciting climax.

FC United are sure to provide difficult opponents, with Neil Reynolds’ team needing the points in their bid for a play-off place. The reverse fixture ended in a 1-1 draw at 1st Cloud Arena in August, with Cedric Main scoring for the Reds before joining Shields two months later.

The manager’s view

Phillips has highlighted the importance of Saturday’s fixture as he aims for a second away victory in his time in charge, having beaten Warrington Town 2-1 in his first match as manager in January.

He said: “I don’t need to tell anyone that our away form needs to improve, but the players are full of confidence after last weekend’s win over Stalybridge Celtic and hopefully they will step up to the plate again with a really good performance.

“It will be a tough game, as every match in this league is, but we go into it confident of getting a positive result.

“We certainly won’t win if we don’t believe in ourselves, so that will be key.

“I’m aware that quite a lot of our supporters are also going to the game so there should be a great atmosphere, and we’re looking forward to it.

“If I was a player preparing for this game I’d be buzzing with excitement.”

Team news

Shields expect to have Blair Adams and Jordan Hunter available after they were substituted in last Saturday’s 4-0 win over Stalybridge Celtic as a precaution.

They remain without Callum Ross, who will miss the rest of the season as he continues his recovery from knee surgery.

Matchday information

Kick-off at Broadhurst Park – which has a post code of M40 0FJ – is at 3pm and admission prices are £12 for adults, £7 for over-60s, students and those in receipt of Income Support or Universal Credit, £3 for under-18s and free for under-fives with a paying adult.

The two sets of supporters will be segregated, with Shields fans asked to enter the ground through turnstiles nine to 12. Full details can be read via this link.

Live updates will be posted on the club’s Twitter account and the Mariners Live team will also be on hand to provide live commentary. You can tune in by clicking here.

South Shields were pegged back by FC United of Manchester as a 1-1 draw ended their 100% start to the Pitching In Northern Premier League season.

Conor Tee handed the Mariners an early lead as he tapped in at the back post, and they carried that advantage into half-time after an impressive first half display.

FC United were much-improved after the break though and their pressure told 13 minutes from the end when Cedric Main stabbed home from just inside the area.

The match was played at a frenetic pace in front of a throbbing crowd of 2,362, and it was Shields who came roaring out of the blocks the quickest.

They were inches away from opening the scoring within three minutes as Blair Adams teared down the left and delivered a cross which was flicked on by Ntumba Massanka to Alex Kempster, who was just unable to stretch enough to turn it into an empty net at the back post.

The Reds responded immediately with an attack of their own. Main burst through the centre and played in Fin Sinclair-Smith, but his effort flew into the side netting and appeared to be covered by Myles Boney.

The visitors continued to possess a threat, particularly on the counter-attack, but the bulk of the first half opportunities were created by the Mariners.

Captain Robert Briggs sent a half-volley wide from the edge of the box and Jordan Hunter continually wreaked havoc on the right flank, which was a pre-cursor to the Shields opener which arrived on the quarter-hour mark.

Hunter brilliantly beat his man to advance into a position of real promise on the right of the area before sliding an inviting low ball across the area which Tee met at the back post as he tapped in his first goal in Shields colours.

There was an opportunity for an immediate response for the visitors as Main forced a block from Dillon Morse, but the Mariners should have doubled their advantage in the 24th minute.

Nathan Lowe’s corner from the right was nodded across goal by Callum Ross to Jack Bodenham, who could only volley over from close range.

Shields were buoyed by the fervent home support and continued to attack their visitors, but a number of fine margins went against them, with Bodenham denied by a headed block and Kempster again narrowly failing to slide a ball home at the back post.

FC United created their best chance of the half 11 minutes before the break when Jonathan Smith’s cross found Jamie Cooke, but Boney was alert to stop the low header and keep his side in front.

There was an even better save at the other end soon after as Briggs almost added a second for the Mariners. Massanka deftly played a ball through to his captain and his flicked strike with the outside of his right foot was brilliantly tipped wide by the outstretched hand of Lavercombe.

Shields started the second half on the front foot and created a chance within 20 seconds of the restart as Massanka headed wide from a Tee cross.

That was not a sign of things to come, though, as FC United impressively increased the pressure in their search for an equaliser as the match progressed.

Boney was in excellent form for the Mariners as he dealt with a number of crosses and set-pieces, and his most eye-catching moment came as he tipped a header from point-blank range by Smith onto the bar before the rebound was sent wide.

The goalkeeper also brilliantly pushed an Adam Dodd free-kick away from danger before a set-piece from the same player was superbly cleared by Bodenham as the Reds attempted to turn the screw.

They scored the equaliser they had been threatening 13 minutes from the end as Main pounced on a loose ball and took it around Boney before converting into an empty net.

Shields responded well to that blow, with substitute Darius Osei testing Lavercombe from long range and Lowe curling over from the edge of the box.

But it was the visitors who went close to notching the third goal of the game as Jordan Simpson found himself in space on the left of the box. Boney made himself big and kept out Simpson’s effort from close range with a stunning save.

There was a stop at the other end by Lavercombe from Kempster as the game continued to ebb and flow, with Osei also threatening what could have been a winner as he attacked down the left before slicing a shot wide.

Boney had more work to do, and was forced to make another tremendous save as the game ticked towards stoppage time, tipping a powerful Drew Baker header onto the bar.

Lowe almost had the vital say against his former club in the 91st minute, but his sweet strike from the edge of the box went narrowly past the post.

A victory ultimately proved to be beyond both sides, and Shields will look to return to winning ways wh


South Shields: Boney, Hunter, Adams, Ross, Morse, Bodenham, Kempster, Briggs (c) (Jenkins 63), Massanka, Lowe, Tee (Osei 65). Subs not used: McGowan, Rossiter, Hodgson.

Goal: Tee (15).

Attendance: 2,362.

Image: Kev Wilson.