A stirring second half fightback moved South Shields four points clear at the top of the Evo-Stik North Division on Saturday as they came from 2-0 down at Ossett Albion.
The Mariners were heading for a fourth league defeat of the season after going in at half-time two goals behind.
A superb response after the break saw them claim a 2-2 draw thanks to goals from Michael Richardson and Jon Shaw, though they were unable to force a winner despite dominating the second half play.
The point moved them four points clear of Hyde United and Scarborough Athletic, who have both played a game more.
Shields were looking for a fifth straight win in the league, and started relatively brightly, with Aksel Juul whistling an early effort over from the right of the area.
However, they were rocked by a quickfire double from the hosts as they were made to pay for slackness at the back.
Adam Priestley fired Shields a warning as he volleyed an effort wide, but within a minute of that, Albion were ahead.
Joshua Grant slipped a ball through the middle for Tom Corner to run onto, and his effort across goal hit Dillon Morse before nestling in the net.
It turned into a nightmare minute for the Mariners, who conceded again just 15 seconds after kicking the game back off.
They gave the ball away soon after kick-off and it was worked by Marcus Day to Priestley, who took a touch to get it out of his feet before rifling a shot across Liam Connell and in.
Shields did not look like their usual selves in the first half as they struggled to find any rhythm, despite battling to get back into contention.
Their first real chance fell the way of Robert Briggs on the stroke of half-time, but he could only drag his effort wide from the edge of the box.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton will have been looking for a strong response from their side in the second half, and they got just that.
Lee Mason – who was arguably their best performer throughout – produced some fine skill to light up a move which led to a Louis Storey shot.
The effort from the midfielder was off-target, but Michael Richardson steered it in with his head to pull one goal back for Shields just two minutes into the second half.
That gave the Mariners the momentum they needed to press on, and they had a number of opportunities to get back on level terms.
Mason got on the end of a ball over the top on the right and the angle looked too tight, but he sent an audacious shot towards goal which goalkeeper Neil Bennett did well to claw out for a corner.
From that set-piece, Dillon Morse saw a header saved by Bennett, who could only watch as Graeme Armstrong nodded the rebound over.
Shields kept up the pressure and Storey volleyed wide, before they won a game-defining corner in the 66th minute.
Julio Arca took it from the right and curled it superbly into the six-yard box, where Shaw stooped to head it home and send the superb Shields travelling support into raptures.
A strong penalty appeal after a challenge on substitute Graeme Armstrong was waved away, while at the other end, Albion had some half chances from distance but were unable to seriously threaten a winner.
The Mariners penned them back again in the closing stages, and the closest they came to netting a dramatic winning goal came in the second of four added minutes.
Briggs curled in a teasing free-kick from the right and Armstrong nodded it goalwards, only to see it agonisingly pass the post and the team-mates who were attempting to slide it in.
At half-time, Shields would undoubtedly have settled for a point, although in the end they could have claimed a superb victory.
They will hope it proves to be an important point in the final reckoning.
The Mariners are back in league action on Tuesday when they travel to bottom side Goole for a 7.45pm kick-off.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Storey, Briggs, Mason, Richardson (Armstrong 55), Juul (Holmes 62). Subs not used: Woolston, Nicholson, Ross.
Goals: Richardson (47), Shaw (66).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields’ defence of the Durham Challenge Cup came to an end as Hartlepool United scored a late equaliser before beating them on penalties on Tuesday.
The Mariners were in control for much of the game at Victoria Park, and looked on course for victory thanks to a first half Michael Richardson goal.
However, Pools equalised against the run of play three minutes before the end and punished Shields for their missed chances by coming out on top in spot-kicks.
The Mariners had a number of half chances in the early stages, the best of which saw Richardson turn a cross from Aksel Juul over the bar.
They broke the deadlock in the 35th minute as Richardson received the ball just outside the box on the left before cutting inside and curling a tremendous shot into the top corner.
Graeme Armstrong could have doubled Shields’ lead, but he was denied at close range by Pools goalkeeper Ryan Catterick before being withdrawn with a hamstring injury.
Catterick did well to save from Richardson and Louis Storey before the break as the visitors tried to press home their advantage.
Hartlepool started the second half well, and could have levelled when Liam Travers was found 12 yards out, but he skied his effort.
Shields had numerous chances to kill the quarter-final tie off.
Debutant Jack Devlin was denied by a fine Catterick save, while Richardson could only shoot wide after being played in on the left.
At the other end, Dillon Morse kept Shields ahead with a goal-line clearance from Liam Pritchard.
Alex Nicholson, Juul and Richardson were all denied by Catterick in the closing stages as Shields’ efforts to score a crucial second goal were thwarted.
They were made to pay when Josh Hawkes received the ball with his back to goal in the 87th minute before turning and picking out the bottom corner.
Travers almost won it for Pools with a 40 yards chip just before the end, but the game went to penalties.
Morse and Pattison both saw their spot-kicks saved by Catterick as Shields crashed out 4-3 on penalties.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Woolston, Baxter, Nicholson, Shaw (c) (Lough 51), Morse, Storey, Richardson, Briggs, Armstrong (Devlin 38), Juul, Holmes (Pattison 59). Subs not used: Connell, Smith.
Goal: Richardson (35).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields were forced to settle for a second successive draw after coming from behind at Kendal on Boxing Day.
The table-topping Mariners fell behind early on, but Michael Richardson’s free-kick levelled things up on the stroke of half-time, with Shields defender Louis Storey claiming he got a touch.
Shields battled in the second half as they tried to find a winner, but found it difficult to break through on a testing pitch as their lead at the top of the Evo-Stik North Division was reduced to two points.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side let a two-goal lead slip as Trafford claimed a 2-2 draw at Mariners Park on Saturday, and they found themselves up against another set of plucky opponents at the ST&B Accountants Stadium.
Although the Mariners held much of the early possession, it was Kendal who had the game’s first chance, with Richard Seear shooting over from 20 yards after a Liam Connell pass went astray.
The hosts then took the lead on the quarter-hour mark after some impressive work down the left, and when the ball was played low into the box, midfielder Anthony Lynch did well to sweep it into the bottom corner.
Shields almost levelled things up within five minutes of that after a swift counter-attack, but Carl Finnigan’s effort went narrowly past the post after he was found by Gavin Cogdon.
Cogdon was a real danger to the home back-line, and he went close 10 minutes before half-time after the ball broke to him in the box, with goalkeeper Samuel Ashton doing well to hold onto his low shot.
The Mariners’ equaliser arrived in stoppage time as Richardson’s free-kick from the left appeared to take a deflection before squirming over the line, with Storey claiming he had the decisive touch.
After half-time, it was much of the same as both teams struggled to find any fluidity on a pitch which was becoming ever more difficult to play on.
Connell beat away an effort from Kendal forward Connor Gaul, while at the other end, Shields debutant Aksel Juul saw an effort saved.
The closest the Mariners came to finding a winner came as a ball forward fell the way of Cogdon, who fired a superb volley not far over.
Kendal possessed a threat too, and Daniel McGahon crashed an effort just over the crossbar from distance.
Jon Shaw was sent up front by the Mariners in the closing stages as they looked for a more threatening aerial threat, and it almost paid off as he headed a Matty Pattison cross narrowly over.
Pattison and Finnigan were denied by Ashton as the game ticked towards its conclusion, but Shields almost lost it in the final minute of stoppage time after losing possession just outside the penalty area.
Seear screwed his effort wide, though, as the Mariners came away with a point.
They are back in action on Saturday as they travel to third-placed Bamber Bridge, who have played a game less and trail Shields by five points.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Callaghan, Shaw, Storey, Arca (c), Richardson (Nicholson 82), Briggs (Pattison 32), Cogdon, Finnigan, Juul (Morse 71). Subs not used: Lough, Smith.
Goal: Richardson (45).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.