A superb hat-trick from Andrew Stephenson sealed holders South Shields’ place in the quarter-finals of the Durham Challenge Cup as they beat Sunderland RCA 3-2 last night.
Stephenson struck three times in the first half to see off the spirited Northern League outfit at Mariners Park.
Shields were made to work for their victory, 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 Anthony Callaghan before beating Bussey with a finish into the bottom corner.
Home keeper Norton did well to push an effort from 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 crossbar and Pattison fizzed an effort just wide.
Alex Nicholson was another to go close twice, before the visitors pulled a goal back when Page forced a low effort past substitute goalkeeper Liam Connell.
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.
Shields – who won the Durham Challenge Cup last season – now await the draw for the quarter-finals.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Norton (Connell 46), Nicholson, Callaghan (Holmes 76), Baxter (c), Morse, Lough, Smith, Storey, Armstrong (Briggs 65), Pattison, Stephenson. Subs not used: Richardson, Finnigan.
Goals: Stephenson 4, 10, 34.