SUNDERLAND RCA made the perfect start to 2012 when they withstood a spirited fightback by Shildon to clinch a crucial victory in yesterday’s STL Northern League First Division game at Dean Street.
Tom Berj, signed on Friday from Newcastle Benfield, could hardly have made a better debut.
Mark Davison scrambled the ball into the net on 27 minutes and three minutes before the interval Berj’s powerfully-headed free kick gave goalkeeper Keith Finch no chance.
At this stage, RCA were coasting but Shildon hit back, scoring twice in six second-half minutes.
A short corner from Brian Stewart found Craig Price on the edge of the penalty area and his clinical finish left RCA goalkeeper Neal Atkinson helpless.
Neil Hixon’s men then conceded a penalty when Brian Close handled and Price was on target for his second goal in quick succession.
The Wearsiders though battled back for a crucial 69th-minute winning goal. Lee Owens broke clear and with the Shildon defence appealing in vain for offside, he placed a clinical drive wide of Finch.
With their nearest rivals inactive, RCA have opened up a three-point lead at the top of the table although West Auckland have three games in hand.
Newton Aycliffe are sixth following a comfortable victory at bottom-of-the-table Stokesley SC with goals from Stuart Owens, Nathan Wilson and Dale Jardine.
Jarrow Roofing dropped into the bottom three when they were hammered 7-1 by Billingham Town.
Bishop Auckland lost 2-1 to a stoppage-time penalty at Billingham Synthonia.
Newcastle Benfield had two players sent off as they lost 3-2 to Guisborough Town.
Bobby Orton has been installed as Horden CW’s manager but he was unable to celebrate in the Division Two game at promotion hopefuls Hebburn Town.
Paul Gardner and Tony Stephenson fired the South Tynesiders ahead but on the stroke of half time, Liam Dixon threw the Colliers a lifeline.
They were unable to contain the free-scoring Liam McBryde in the second half and he added to his impressive tally with another hat-trick. In added time, Paul Regan claimed a second consolation goal for Horden.
Birtley Town remain on the fringe of the promotion places but they had to settle for a point at Thornaby who led at the interval through Graeme Baverstock and Robert Pearson.
Matthew Hornsby led Birtley’s fightback with a splendid effort after an hour and five minutes from time James Allsopp equalised.
Team Northumbria extended their lead at the top of the table to seven points but they had to withstand a strong rally from Crook Town before winning by the odd goal in five.
It looked all over for the Millfield side as Team went three goals up inside 14 minutes through Dean Critchlow with a brace and Lee Scott.
Luke Proctor led the fightback and when Daniel Corbett also struck by the 58th minute, the outcome was wide open. Crook’s chances though faded with the dismissal of Graeme Liddle in the 73rd minute.
North Shields, who have lost just once in the last 20 games, remain second and they were grateful to snatch a point at home to Alnwick Town who led thanks to Ben Keenan until Dean Holmes levelled on 86 minutes.