Sunderland RCA put up a brave fight only to succumb to a superb Andrew Stephenson hat-trick in last night’s Durham Challenge Cup tie at Evo-Stik North high-fliers South Shields.
Former Spennymoor Town midfielder Stephenson struck three times in the first half to see off the spirited Northern League outfit at Mariners Park.
Holders Shields were made to work for their victory in front of a crowd of 608, but looked like they might be on for a comfortable night early on when Stephenson gave them the lead in the fourth minute.
He was found by a great through ball by Matty Pattison before rounding goalkeeper Neal Bussey and finishing well.
Within a minute, though, RCA were level when Colin Larkin pounced on a loose backpass and forced the ball past Jack Norton.
The entertaining start continued when Stephenson restored the home side’s lead in the 10th minute, controlling a cross from ex-Washington left-back Anthony Callaghan before beating Bussey with a finish into the bottom corner.
Norton did well to push an effort from RCA’s Nathan O’Neill wide soon after, while, at the other end, the Mariners came close on two occasions before Stephenson completed his hat-trick.
This one was the pick of the bunch as the ball bounced up for him 25 yards out on the right before he beat Bussey with a stunning effort.
RCA continued to threaten, and Norton did well to push a powerful effort from Luke Page wide late in the first half.
The second half was hard-fought, and Shields went close when a Callaghan cross hit the bar and Pattison fizzed an effort just wide.
Alex Nicholson was another to go close twice, before the visitors pulled a goal back when Page fired a low effort past substitute goalkeeper Liam Connell after a good run.
The Mariners could have made it more comfortable in the closing stages, but Graeme Armstrong was denied from close range by Bussey after being played in on goal.
Dunston UTS’s tie at home to West Auckland was postponed due to a frozen pitch, as was the Northern League Division Two clash of Durham City and Chester-le-Street at Willington.
One Second Division game got the go-ahead, with Whickham sinking neighbours Ryton & Crawcrook Albion 3-0 at the Glebe, thanks to three goals in a sensational finish.
Ryton had Martyn Hepple sent off on 75 minutes and the home pressure paid off in the 90th minute, when James Norton sent Joe Mole down the left and he cut the ball back for John Martin, who powered a left-foot shot into the top corner of the net.
A minute later, Kyle Wharton’s deflected effort doubled the lead, then Steven Aiston added a third goal deep into stoppage time as Whickham climbed to fifth place, two points outside the promotion places.