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.
A live stream is available for the Pitching In Northern Premier League match between South Shields and Matlock Town on Saturday.
It can be viewed at a cost of £5 by clicking here.
The pre-match coverage will get underway at 2.30pm and features an interview with Shields joint manager Graham Fenton.
That will be followed by live coverage of the match from 3pm, with commentary provided by Chris May and Ronnie Peet.
South Shields take on Matlock Town on Saturday in a battle between two of the Pitching In Northern Premier League’s early pace-setters.
The sides are fourth and fifth in the table respectively heading into the game at 1st Cloud Arena, with a capacity crowd of 300 expected to be in attendance.
Admittance is restricted to season ticket holders in bubble two – those with a surname beginning with a letter between M and Z, as well as those who notified the club they were not attending the previous home fixture against Radcliffe – as well as season ticket holders with surnames beginning with the letter D and L after those letters were randomly selected on Friday afternoon.
Those not able to attend the game can view a live stream at a price of £5 by clicking here. Pre-match coverage will get underway at 2.30pm.
Shields joint manager Graham Fenton has called on his side to rise to the challenge against a much-improved team on Saturday.
Matlock were among the Pitching In Northern Premier League’s strugglers last season but have started this campaign well, and are just a point and a place behind fourth-placed Shields heading into the match.
Manager Paul Phillips strengthened his squad significantly over the summer and the Gladiators are being tipped as potential promotion contenders, so joint manager Fenton knows the sort of test which awaits his side this weekend.
The Mariners go into the game buoyed by Tuesday’s win on penalties against National League North side Southport in the Emirates FA Cup.
That booked a fourth qualifying round tie at home to National League outfit FC Halifax Town next Saturday, but for now Shields’ full focus is on the league.
After coming through a difficult battle against a direct and physical opponent in midweek, Fenton is ready for more of the same as Matlock visit 1st Cloud Arena.
He said: “We are fully expecting a really tough game against a physical Matlock side who have had some good results recently.
“They have brought in new staff and players since we last played them so we will be facing somewhat of a new challenge, but it’s one we’re looking forward to.
“We have done as much research as possible and feel like we have come up with a gameplan to cause Matlock plenty of problems to deal with.
“We envisage that it may be similar to the Southport game on Tuesday in terms of Matlock being a very physical, direct team who put plenty of balls into the box.
“Our aim is to deal with those situations as well as we did against Southport in midweek.”
Shields remain without midfielders Nathan Lowe and Luke Daly going into the 3pm kick-off, with both players still recovering from knee injuries.
Jon Shaw and Blair Adams are battling to be fit for the match after being withdrawn with niggles during Tuesday’s game, while defender Ciaren Jones is in contention after being added to the squad.
Although Thursday’s FA Cup draw provided Shields with another exciting test to come, they are determined not to be distracted from their main aim this season, which is to win promotion.
Games such as Saturday’s will be vital to their chances.
Fenton added: “I’m sure Matlock will be coming here with confidence after their 4-1 victory over Ashton last weekend.
“They have had lots of changes within their club over the past few months and we fully expect them to be in the mix towards the end of the season in terms of play-off places and promotion.
“This will be a really tough test physically and psychologically for us, but we’re really looking forward to that challenge.”