North Shields...1 Alnwick Town...1
STL Northern League, Division Two
TEN-MAN Alnwick Town battled to a well-deserved point at high-flying North Shields on Bank Holiday Monday.
The north Northumbrian men had led the contest thanks to a coolly-taken second-half strike from Ben Keenan, who silenced a rather raucous section of the home crowd with his opener.
However, a crazy spell towards the end of the match, with Alnwick keeper Brian Brooks being sent off before his replacement Jamie Walton gifted Shields an equaliser, saw the in-form hosts snatch a share of the spoils.
But while Alnwick will be disappointed with the way they let their opponents back into the game, they must take great heart from this performance – a performance which saw them recover from a Boxing Day defeat against Morpeth Town to hold a rampant North Shields team who were searching for their sixth league win in seven matches.
The home side started brightly and an early corner caused problems, but Brooks managed to push the set-piece up onto the bar before the ball was cleared.
Alnwick could have taken the lead when Tony Brown played Luke Newton clear but the latter’s shot hit the post.
The two combined shortly after, when a deep Brown free-kick found Newton at the far-post who volleyed goalbound, only for it to be diverted over the bar by a home defender.
North Shields thought they had taken the lead, though, when pacy winger James Luccock got in behind the Alnwick defence and slotted past Brooks, only to be flagged offside.
Then came one of the biggest blows of the game for Alnwick, when they lost Chris Kidd to a first-half knee injury, forcing him to be carried off on a stretcher.
Both teams had chances at the end of the half, with Alnwick substitute Jon Colley having his shot saved before Andrew Hay went close for the hosts, but his effort went wide.
The second-half was a more open affair and the first chance fell to North Shields, but Brooks got down well to save superbly from Luccock.
Then followed Alnwick’s best spell of the game.
First, Newton was denied at close range by a goal-line block from defender Neil Baistow.
Shortly after, Shields stopper Michael Robinson saved from Colley’s strike before diving on the loose ball to deny Alnwick skipper Bryan Murray.
But Alnwick’s next shot on goal broke the deadlock.
A neat flick from Colley moved the ball into the path of Keenan who kept his nerve to jink inside a defender and slot inside the far-post.
It was a fitting moment for the forward, who had been barracked by a section of the home support all game.
His goal well and truly silenced them and just to rub salt in their wounds, he celebrated his well-taken goal in front of them.
Shields were rallied into action and Scott Blandford had two efforts in quick succession, the first saved by Brooks while the second – a diving header at the near post – was steered wide of goal.
Then came the turning point.
The lively Luccock bore down on goal and as he pushed the ball past Brooks, the ball hit the Alnwick stopper’s hand outside the area and the away keeper was given his marching orders.
Walton came on in Brook’s place, but a mistake from the new keeper shortly after coming onto the pitch saw Shields level.
His weak kick fell straight to Dean Holmes who found himself one-on-one with Walton and duly converted to capitalise on the error.
Things could have got worse for the substitute keeper moments later when it looked as though he had brought down an advancing Shields player, but no free-kick was given.
At the other end, Newton was bundled down in the Shields box at the death, but the referee waved play on.
The match ended all-square, finishing with a scoreline that Alnwick would have no doubt taken before kick-off.
Alnwick are away to Crook Town on Saturday in Division Two, kick-off 3pm.
Alnwick Town (v North Shields): B Brooks, D Iredale, N Catlow, B Murray, T McPherson, G Patterson, C Kidd, T Brown, N McFarlane, B Keenan, L Newton. Subs: P Hodge, J Walton, D Hubbard, J Colley.