Colin Larkin - scorer of RCA's first goal - fires in a shot.
For more photos from the match please click here.
Goal scorers - South Shields: Stephenson (3). RCA: Larkin; Page.
After 24 days - and five postponements due to the wintery weather - Sunderland RCA were back in action tonight with a trip to South Shields in the Second Round of the Durham County Challenge Cup.
RCA made five changes from the side that drew with Newton Aycliffe on 25 November, with Neal Bussey, Greg Swansbury, Dylan Elliott, Nathan O'Neill and Colin Larkin replacing Keith Finch, Ross Preston, James Armstrong, Clayton Davis and Luke Richardson.
The two sides lined up as follows:
South Shields: Norton; Nicholson; Callaghan; Baxter (c); Morse; Lough; Smith; Storey; Armstrong; Pattison; Stephenson.
RCA: Bussey; Noble; Hodgson; McGuinness; Swansbury (c); Elliott; Charlton; Page; O'Neill; Larkin; Callen.
In the opening minute, RCA won a free-kick after Page was fouled making a typical driving run through the heart of the Shields defence - Elliott's free-kick was curled high over the crossbar. Three minutes later and Shields took the lead - Pattison did well down the left, before playing the ball into Stephenson, who took the ball around Bussey and fired into the net. Barely a minute later, though, and RCA were level - there appeared to be no danger for Shields, but a short back pass from Morse intended for Norton was intercepted by Larkin who finished from 12 yards. In the tenth minute, Shields retook the lead as a cross from Callaghan on the left found Stephenson in acres of space on the edge of the six-yard area and again he finished well. Three minutes later and RCA produced a good move up to O'Neill, who fired in a shot from the edge of the penalty area that was tipped behind by Norton, diving to his left. McGuinness whipped in the corner and Page rose well but could only get a skimming contact and the ball drifted out for a goal-kick.
On the half hour mark, Shields were inches away from extending their lead as Storey made a good run down the right and crossed almost along the goal line where Armstrong couldn't quite connect at the far post. The home side didn't have to wait long, though, and one minute later scored again with the goal of the match - a ball forward was only half cleared by RCA and the ball dropped to Stephenson who lobbed Bussey from 25 yards with a superb finish to claim a first half hat-trick. In the 39th minute, RCA had a couple of good opportunities to get back into the match - Callen made an excellent mazy run, looking for a pass, and found Page just inside the penalty area who fired in a fierce shot that was well saved by Norton for a corner. From McGuinness’ corner, Larkin headed over the crossbar.
Half-time: South Shields 3 Sunderland RCA 1
Shields won an early corner which was cleared. In the 49th minute, RCA won a free-kick for a foul on Charlton by Callaghan. The free-kick was cleared and Charlton was again fouled, and McGuinness fired the free-kick over the crossbar from 25 yards. Four minutes later and Shields won a free-kick on the left and Bussey punched clear Stephenson's set piece. In the 61st minute, Stephenson headed narrowly wide from a good cross from the right. Three minutes later and Jonathan Davis replaced Nathan O'Neill. Davis almost made an immediate impact as he charged down an attempted clearance but the ball went agonisingly wide. In the 68th minute, Nicholson made a super, driving run from full back and fired a shot over the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area. But two minutes later, RCA were back in the match - Larkin did well down the left, playing in Page who finished confidently, side footing into the net from inside penalty area. In the 78th minute, James Armstrong replaced Michael Charlton. With five minutes remaining, RCA won a free-kick 25 yards from goal after a foul on Davis. Armstrong fired the free-kick over the crossbar. In stoppage time, Luke Richardson replaced Colin Larkin.
After the cup exploits of the last couple of seasons, and the excellent run in the FA Cup at the beginning of this season, it felt like this could be the year that RCA won a trophy - or at least reached a final. But three tough draws against Runcorn Linnets in the Vase, Whitley Bay in the League Cup, and South Shields in the Durham County Challenge Cup, has left us out of all four cups before Christmas, and with just a league position to play for in the next four months. RCA currently sit in ninth place, and, with 22 league matches still to play, a top six finish is distinctly possible and would be a great achievement and certainly something to shoot for.
Tonight's RCA man of the match was a joint effort between Geoff Bussey and Paul Davis. Geoff and Paul chose Luke Page for his non-stop running, gliding past players, and scoring with a good finish. Well played, Luke!
Next up for RCA - weather permitting - is a Northern League match away at Team Northumbria on Saturday, 23 December. Kick-off is at 3pm.