South Shields battled to a 2-1 win at Droylsden as they maintained their position at the top of the Evo-Stik North Division on Saturday.
On arguably the most difficult playing surface they have played on this season, the Mariners deservedly led 2-0 at half-time thanks to early goals from Graeme Armstrong and Dillon Morse.
Droylsden responded well after the break, and Ciaran Kilheeney’s goal two minutes before the end made it a nervy ending for the visitors.
However, they saw the game out to claim an important three points as they bounced back from Tuesday’s penalty shoot-out defeat to Hartlepool United in the Durham Challenge Cup.
A fast start ultimately reaped dividends, with a rally from the home side coming too late.
It took less than 90 seconds for Shields to take the lead, with Armstrong netting for the second league game in a row.
Robert Briggs’ effort was blocked into the path of the striker, who rifled a low effort between the legs of home goalkeeper Ritchie Branagan to give the Mariners a perfect start.
Droylsden, who were ninth in the table heading into this fixture, responded well, with the impressive Luke Daly forcing Liam Connell into a fifth minute save with an effort from distance.
Connell again denied Daly before Shields added a vital second goal midway through the first half.
Briggs’ free-kick from the right was half-cleared to Louis Storey 20 yards out, and he brilliantly hooked the ball into the box, where Morse was on hand to head it home.
It was the defender’s seventh goal of an increasingly impressive season.
Droylsden struggled to seriously trouble Shields in the remainder of the first half, but they improved after the break.
They should perhaps have pulled a goal back within 30 seconds of the restart, but after creating space for himself in the area, Liam Caddick could only shoot over.
Stephen Hall was the next to go close as he headed a left-wing cross by Daly just past the post.
The conditions were becoming ever more difficult as the pitch continued to cut up, but Shields did have a chance to wrap up the points when a loose clearance by Branagan fell to the feet of Briggs 25 yards out.
He curled the ball just over the crossbar as the hosts survived.
In the closing stages, Droylsden went increasingly direct, and they got their reward in the 88th minute when a Daly corner from the left was forced in by the head of substitute Ciaran Kilheeney at the near post.
Shields had to survive a flurry of set pieces and balls forward in the five minutes of stoppage time which were added, but ultimately had enough to see the game out.
They remain one point clear of Scarborough Athletic at the top, with a game in hand, which will be played tomorrow at home to Ossett Town.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Briggs, Storey, Armstrong, Wright (Devlin 57) (Richardson 86), Holmes (Pattison 51). Subs not used: Woolston, Nicholson.
Goals: Armstrong (2), Morse (23).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.