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Match Report: Darlington 2-2 South Shields

Paul Blackett's stoppage time penalty salvaged a deserved point for South Shields in an entertaining North East derby with Darlington on Saturday.

The Mariners led when Luke James drilled home on 20 minutes, only for the hosts to peg them back shortly afterwards through a Mitchell Curry spot-kick.

Shields had presentable opportunities before and after Andrew Nelson fired the hosts in front just a minute into the second half, but looked like they were headed for a second Vanarama National League North defeat until Blackett was tripped in stoppage time.

The substitute picked himself up to find the bottom corner from 12 yards as the Mariners moved onto 11 points and continued their promising start to the campaign.

Just 48 hours on from Shields’ 3-0 win over Gloucester City at 1st Cloud Arena, Julio Arca made seven changes to the starting line-up, with just Myles Boney, John Lufudu, Blair Adams and Tom Broadbent retaining their places.

They started on the front foot, with Lufudu and Jed Abbey both advancing into dangerous areas and causing Darlington hearts to flutter within the opening two minutes.

Clear-cut chances were in short supply, though, until James opened the scoring with his first goal for the Mariners.

Mackenzie Heaney’s hopeful cross on the turn was played back to James by Michael Woods, and the forward buried an effort into the bottom corner to send the sizeable travelling support into raptures.

Shields were not able to enjoy their lead for long, with Abbey penalised for pulling the shirt of Darlington captain Tom Platt in the area, and Curry dispatching the resulting spot-kick.

A flurry of action followed at both ends, and Shields breathed a sigh of relief when the offside flag cut home celebrations short after Jacob Hazel had finished from close range.

The Mariners gathered themselves and swarmed forward repeatedly in the closing stages of the half.

James was just unable to get his toe on a Lufudu cross at the near post and Abbey fired over from the edge of the box before a glorious opportunity arrived two minutes before the break.

Tenacious play saw James dispossess Toby Lees in the penalty area and after he rounded goalkeeper Tommy Taylor he looked certain to score, only for Lees to race back to the goal-line and make a tremendous block.

That clearance meant the sides went in at half-time level but just a minute into the second half, Darlington had their noses in front.

Platt worked the ball inside from the left and laid it off to Nelson, whose strike from just inside the area was clinical as he picked out the bottom corner.

Shields were stunned by that blow but gradually regained control and had a huge chance to equalise when Lufudu’s peach of a cross found Joao Gomes, whose header was brilliantly saved by the foot of Taylor in Darlington’s goal.

An even better chance arrived on 74 minutes as Heaney sent the ball forward and Blackett – less than two minutes after being brought on – forced his way into a shooting position with the goal gaping, only to send it narrowly past the post.

The game became stretched in the closing stages as Shields pressed for a leveller, and they were indebted to Boney for keeping them in contention.

He produced a fingertip save to push a Hazel free-kick wide and later made a superb point-blank stop to deny Finlay Barnes.

After five minutes of stoppage time were indicated, Shields continued to probe and they were rewarded when after some determined play, Blackett got in behind down the right of the area before being tripped by Jake Lawlor.

The referee pointed to the spot and up stepped Blackett, who sent the penalty low to Taylor’s left and although the goalkeeper got a touch on his effort, there was too much power on it to keep it out.

Shields were resolute in the dying embers as Darlington sent in a series of set-pieces, with Broadbent and Dillon Morse, among others, doing what was needed to keep the hosts at bay and seal a well-earned point.

The Mariners are at home to Banbury United on Saturday in their latest National League North challenge.

South Shields: Boney, Lufudu, Adams (c), Morse, Broadbent, Smith, Woods (Martin 72), Abbey (Hasani 59), Heaney, James, Gomes (Blackett 72). Subs not used: Liddle, Briggs.

Goals: James (20), Blackett (pen 90+2).

Attendance: 2,142.

Image: Kev Wilson.

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