A superb hat-trick from Andrew Stephenson sealed holders South Shields’ place in the quarter-finals of the Durham Challenge Cup as they beat Sunderland RCA 3-2 on Tuesday.

Stephenson struck three times in the first half to see off the spirited Northern League outfit at Mariners Park.

Shields were made to work for their victory, but looked like they might be on for a comfortable night early on when Stephenson gave them the lead in the fourth minute.

He was found by a great through ball by Matty Pattison before rounding goalkeeper Neal Bussey and finishing well.

Within a minute, though, RCA were level when Colin Larkin pounced on a loose backpass and forced the ball past Jack Norton.

The entertaining start continued when Stephenson restored the home side’s lead in the 10th minute, controlling a cross from Anthony Callaghan before beating Bussey with a finish into the bottom corner.

Norton did well to push an effort from Nathan O’Neill wide soon after, while at the other end, the Mariners came close on two occasions before Stephenson completed his hat-trick.

This one was the pick of the bunch as the ball bounced up for him 25 yards out on the right and he beat Bussey with a stunning effort.

RCA continued to threaten, and Norton did well to push a powerful effort from Luke Page wide late in the first half.

The second half was hard-fought, and Shields went close when a Callaghan cross hit the crossbar and Pattison fizzed an effort just wide.

Alex Nicholson was another to go close twice, before the visitors pulled a goal back when Page forced a low effort past substitute goalkeeper Liam Connell.

The Mariners could have made it more comfortable in the closing stages, but Graeme Armstrong was denied from close range by Bussey after being played in on goal.

Shields – who won the Durham Challenge Cup last season – now await the draw for the quarter-finals.

SOUTH SHIELDS: Norton (Connell 46), Nicholson, Callaghan (Holmes 76), Baxter (c), Morse, Lough, Smith, Storey, Armstrong (Briggs 65), Pattison, Stephenson. Subs not used: Richardson, Finnigan.

Goals: Stephenson (4, 10, 34).

Attendance: 608.

WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.

South Shields will continue their bid to defend the Durham Challenge Cup on Tuesday when they take on Sunderland RCA at Mariners Park.

The Mariners won the competition last season on their way to a historic quadruple.

They will be up against familiar opponents in Tuesday’s match, with RCA having proved to be extremely difficult to beat in both Northern League fixtures between the sides last season.

Shields had to come from two goals down with 10 men to claim a draw in the first meeting at Mariners Park, while the return fixture saw the Mariners again come from behind after having a player sent off to seal a dramatic 2-1 victory.

Joint manager Graham Fenton is expecting a similarly difficult encounter with Martin Swales’ side this time around.

He said: “Sunderland RCA will work their socks off, and Swaz expects nothing different from his teams.

“They will make it difficult for us, and we’ve already put that in the players’ minds ahead of the game. The lads know it will be a tough test.

“There’s no complacency coming from our side, thinking that just because we’ve stepped up a level it’s going to be easy.

“We know it’s going to be difficult against one of Swaz’s teams, so we’ll give them all due respect and hopefully come out on the right side of the line.”

Sunderland RCA currently sit ninth in Division One of the Northern League, although they are without a win in their last five games in all competitions.

Another player with plenty of experience of coming up against them is Barrie Smith, who also expects a difficult tie as Shields bid to win a place in the quarter-finals.

He said: “Swaz will have them working very hard and getting stuck in.

“They’ll try to make themselves tough to beat, so we’ve got to be ready for that challenge.

“We’re at home and on our pitch, so hopefully we’ll get everybody wanting to do the hard work first and battling for each other. We all know the quality will come through for us if we do that.

“We’re the holders, so we want to win it again. Like last season, we want to win everything that we play in, so our aim is to try to win this game and get through to the next round.”

Kick-off is at 7.30pm, with admission – to be paid at the turnstiles – costing £8 for adults, £6 for students and over-65s, and £2 for under-16s.

WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.

The Durham Challenge Cup second round tie between South Shields and Sunderland RCA has been scheduled for Tuesday, December 19.

The match will take place at Mariners Park with a 7.30pm kick-off.

It will be a meeting between familiar foes, with the sides having met in the Northern League last season.

Both fixtures between the teams were extremely competitive.

Shields came from two goals down with 10 men to snatch a 2-2 draw with RCA at Mariners Park last October.

The Mariners then got the better of Martin Swales’ side in one of the defining games of their season in March, again with 10 men.

Alex Nicholson had seen red in the first half and Shields went in at half-time a goal behind, but they battled back with a determined showing in the second half, and goals from Julio Arca and Gavin Cogdon secured a fired-up Mariners a vital three points on their way to winning the league title.

Shields are looking to defend the Durham Challenge Cup, which they won at Hartlepool United’s Victoria Park with a win over Billingham Synthonia in May.

They played their opening match in this season’s competition last month, beating Jarrow Roofing 4-0 at Mariners Park.

IMAGE: Peter Talbot.