After being thoroughly underwhelmed by England’s performance against the Welsh on Saturday I decided to give the friendly against Ghana a miss and take in some Northern League action instead. A quick peek at the fixture list showed me that I had a choice between a trip to Esh Winning, Dunston UTS, Birtley Town and South Shields. After posting my game selection options on Twitter I was swiftly invited along to Filtrona Park to watch South Shields take on the intriguingly named Norton & Stockton Ancients. Being a polite soul, I decided to take up this offer and was soon on Google maps planning my journey.
After pitching up at Filtrona Park and paying my usual Northern League admission of £5 I had a nosy inside the Club House but opted against getting a drink, deciding to stick with my bottle of pop. Outside the clubhouse I had look at the two line ups on the chalkboard, but must confess I was none the wiser after doing so. I headed over to the railings at pitch side to take up position and couldn’t help but overhear the two conversations either side of me. To the left I heard three older blokes and a teenager talking about the ticket increases at Newcastle United and to the right two chaps agreeing with each other that they had no interest in the England v Ghana match whatsoever despite Gyan, Muntari and Mensah playing. If these two conversations provided a microcosm of South Shields FC I deduced that the crowd contained both NUFC and SAFC sympathisers, but these allegiances were on hold to cheer on the Claret and Blue’s.
A lively first half saw the home team come out of the blocks quickest with spells of pressure bringing a penalty shout that was waved away by the referee. However after twenty minutes Norton & Stockton came in to the game and took the leads on 27 minutes when a South Shields defender tried and failed to play his way out of trouble, gifting the ball to Craig Bishop who shot through the goalkeeper to put the visitors 0-1 up. Shields had a couple of chances to level things that they were unable to convert and the visitors went in to the interval one up.
At this point myself and a number of others shuffled in to the Club House to catch 15 minutes of the England game. We witnessed Ashley Young hit the crossbar when it seemed easier to score and Asamoah Gyan strike a shot at goal from a full forty yards before I headed upstairs to grab a pint. I gulped that down before assuming the same position as in the first half.
Anyone returning late for the second half may have missed N&S doubling their lead after forty seven minutes, again from a Shields error. N&S launched the ball from the back but their appeared to be little danger until Hall miss-hit his back pass straight to the N&S centre forward who had still had some work to do in lobbing the ball over the advancing Shields keeper.
N&S appeared to be cruising to victory and the frustration of the home side boiled over after fifty five minutes when a late tackle led to some pushing and shoving in the centre circle. The referee was quick to intervene and calm the situation and the players soon dispersed without the referee feeling the need to show any cards.
On seventy two minutes a cross from the left by one of the Shields subs found its way to Tony Coe at the back post, and he stooped down to head the ball past the S&N keeper and half the deficit to 1-2. This buoyed the home crowd, especially those behind the goal which Shields were attacking. Shields continued their bombardment of the N&S, who looked shocked to find themselves hanging on to a game they seemingly had won. N&S seemed to weather the storm but on seventy nine minutes a long diagonal from the Shields right found its way on to the head of Tony Burnell who flicked the ball past the onrushing keeper to make it a very unlikely 2-2. This was greeted by the loudest cheer of the night, and following it the Shields players pushed for winner.
This push was halted however on eighty eight minutes when Shields centre back Hall’s miserable evening was compounded when he was sent off for a lunge, although the dismissal was harsh as he won the ball first before catching the S&N substitute with his follow through.
The referee brought a very entertaining game to an end after two minutes of injury time in which neither side was able to fashion a chance to win the game. Theo Furness of N&S was my man of the match for numerous displays of dribbling and close control all over the pitch. For N&S 2-2 probably feels like a defeat after leading 2-0 with less than 20 minutes, where as for Shields it will feel like a victory after appearing down and out.
In conclusion it was a very enjoyable first trip to watch The Mariners. The game itself was of a very high standard, with both teams exhibiting good passing and first touch. Stockton & Norton may have just shaded it but Shields showed fantastic spirit and character to come from two down and a draw was probably a fair result. Hopefully I will be back at Filtrona Park before too long on my Northern League travels. Next time I will remember not to leave my camera at the bottom of the stairs to add some pictures to the words.