Guisborough Town 2, South Shields 3
(Northern League Division One)

The term ‘unlucky’ is often a vastly over-used word in the world of spot in general, but particularly football. But after a dramatically thrilling last game of the season at a packed KGV Stadium yesterday, that description was entirely justified in Guisborough’s case.

The Priorymen could count themselves extremely unfortunate to narrowly lose to the newly-crowned League champions, South Shields, after a titanic struggle in which the Mariners finally sunk Guisborough’s battle against relegation with a 3-2 victory. The defeat meant that Guisborough finished third from bottom just a point behind nearest relegation rivals Washington and only two points adrift of West Auckland Town, both of whom stay up despite final day defeats.

Against South Shields on Saturday, with a bumper crowd of 963 swelled by the boisterous but well-behaved Shields travelling army, Guisborough more than matched their illustrious opponents over the full 90 minutes. This was despite the early shock of going a goal down after just two minutes when Shields striker, Jordan Blinco, cut into the box and fired in a low shot from 16 yards out which somehow squirmed under Guisborough ‘keeper James Dawson’s grasp.

Undeterred, Guisborough hit back strongly in the 14th minute when Guisborough legend Dave Onions, making his farewell appearance for the club, floated over a superb looping cross into the box and Town winger Steve Roberts reacted rapidly to get to the ball first and toe-poke it past Shields ‘keeper Jameson.

Then two minutes later Roberts came agonisingly close to putting Guisborough into the lead when he surged on to a through ball and as Jameson rushed out, he lobbed him beautifully but the ball arced just over the Shields bar and behind for nothing more than a goal-kick.

Just a minute after Shields regained the lead when their impressive midfielder, Barrie Smith, cut diagonally across the Guisborough penalty area before turning smartly and smashing the ball beyond Dawson into the far corner for 2-1 and that’s how it stayed to the interval.

In the second half Guisborough came out with real purpose and for the next 45 minutes were definitely the better side as they pushed forward relentlessly in search of an elusive equaliser. The Priorymen carved out several great chances the best of which came in the 65th minute when right back Anthony Snook stormed forward and let fly with a stunning shot from fully 35 yards out which had Shields ‘keeper Jameson beaten all ends up but the ball thudded against the bar and was cleared.

Then 10 minutes later in the 75th minute Shields broke away and the ball was fed through to Carl Finnegan who scored in the corner to make it 3-1. To their great credit, Guisborough still refused to give up despite having a mountain to climb and Gary Wood, substitute Jonny Helm and Louis Goldsack all went very close as Shields were forced on to the back foot and had to defend desperately.

Guisborough did finally get the breakthrough they deserved in the 90th minute when more superb work down the right by Steve Roberts ended with a pin-point cross to the far post, where Goldsack rose brilliantly to head the ball home just inside the post.

But it was just too late to change the result and the final whistle blew shortly afterwards to bring to an end a pulsating match played in a great spirit by both sides and with a tremendous atmosphere thanks mainly to Shields’ super fans. After the game the Division One Trophy was presented on the pitch to Shields with their ecstatic fans celebrating wildly.

The end of the game also marked the end of an illustrious era for Guisborough’s much-loved and admired striker Dave Onions, who has finally decided to hang his sharp-shooting boots up after 19 consecutive seasons which includes nearly 200 appearances for Guisborough in three spells which have yielded over 100 goals at a superb average of more than a goal per every two games.

It was fitting that Dave was made captain for the day and that both sets of players lined up to give him a richly-deserved Guard of Honour. He commented, “It was an emotional day for me today especially when I walked on to the field with my two daughters with the Guard of Honour. The lads can be proud of themselves today – we have come a long way since Gary Forster took over, he has done a tremendous job and we have some superb young players here along with some very experienced ones.”

After the game a disappointed but not downhearted Guisborough Manager Gary Forster paid tribute to his team and said he remained confident about the future whichever division his side are playing in next season.

He said, “I couldn’t have asked more of my players since I took over a few months ago. I thought we gave it everything today in what was our biggest challenge since I became Manager. In the second half I thought we deserved much more than the one goal we got right at the end. We hit the bar, had shots cleared off the line and Gary Wood went close. Overall very disappointed because I think we could have upset the odds there and come away with a win”.

All eyes are now on the Northern League Management Committee to see whether they will grant Guisborough a reprieve from relegation, because champions South Shields are now all but certain to be promoted to the EvoStik League, meaning Division One will already be one team light. No-one knows yet what will be decided on when, but one thing is for sure Guisborough’s players and dedicated Management Team can hold their heads high after giving their absolute all to keep the club in the top division on merit.