A record crowd of over 1,800 packed into Mariners Park as South Shields defeated neighbours Hebburn Town to move a win away from the Ebac Northern League Division Two title.
The previous highest attendance of 1,500 was smashed as Shields won 2-0 with goals from Martyn Coleman and Ben Riding.
The victory moved the Mariners onto 98 points, and three more will be enough for the championship after Ryhope CW kept up the pace with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Brandon United.
Shields, too, were made to work for their victory, but came on strong after scoring the opening goal and merited their three points in a game which had been originally scheduled for Boxing Day.
Because of that, many supporters attended the match wearing Christmas jumpers or Santa suits, and there was a celebratory atmosphere, with the Mariners having won promotion two weeks ago with a win at Easington Colliery.
Hebburn gave as good as they got in the early stages, though, and Shields goalkeeper Josh Richardson had to be alert to palm over a right-wing cross from Ross Toward which was looping into the net.
From the resulting corner, Richardson also kept out a header from Christopher Smith as the hosts remained on level terms.
Shields’ first real sight of goal came when Riding’s long throw from the right was not cleared, and when he broke into the box after taking the throw, he hit a shot over.
Julio Arca was in impressive form in midfield after recovering from the hamstring injury which had kept him out of the previous two matches, and he delivered a superb ball from the right which Michael Turner headed just over via a deflection.
Robert Briggs went even closer when his superb curled free-kick from 25 yards came back off the crossbar, and Hebburn were able to clear their lines effectively.
By this stage, the Mariners were in control, but Hebburn went agonisingly close to taking the lead in the 33rd minute.
First, Richardson dropped a cross from the right and a chance was presented to Marc Costello, who was unable to force the ball through a sea of bodies. However, it broke to Callum Smith outside the box, and he curled an effort which was destined for the bottom corner before Richardson excellently tipped it wide.
Riding should have put Shields ahead when he got on the end of a Briggs free-kick, but he spurned the chance, sending it well wide of the target as he was off balance from close range.
The Mariners did not have to wait too much longer for the breakthrough, though, and it was provided six minutes before half-time as Arca lifted a delicious pass over the top. Racing onto it was Coleman, and he reached the ball before onrushing goalkeeper Steven Hubery before lobbing him from outside the box and finding the target brilliantly as it bounced in.
That handed Shields a vital half-time lead, and they never looked likely to relinquish that in the second half.
Hebburn battled well, with their best chance falling to Callum Smith, but it was the hosts who were in control, with visiting goalkeeper Hubery – formerly of the Mariners – doing well on a number of occasions to clear the danger with his sharpness off his line.
Briggs and substitute David Foley went relatively close to extending the home side’s advantage, while a huge cheer was reserved from the supporters for Warren Byrne when he was introduced from the bench for the final 19 minutes.
The goal to clinch the points came 15 minutes before the end when another impressive Briggs free-kick was curled into the box from the left, and Riding got on the end of it to head it past Hubery at the back post. It was centre-back Riding’s ninth goal of a productive season.
Hebburn did well to restrict the Mariners’ opportunities in the closing stages, but were unable to make a real impact at the other end as the hosts saw out their victory.
They go into Saturday’s game at Crook Town knowing a win would secure the title, but with Ryhope again facing Brandon United before then, there remains a chance the championship could be wrapped up before then.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Richardson, Smith, Turner, Hall (Hassan 76), Carson, Riding, Briggs, Scroggins (c), Ramsey (Foley 51) Coleman (Byrne 71), Arca. Subs not used: Pocklington, Teasdale.
Goals: Coleman (39), Riding (75).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
Warren Byrne stole the show with a stunning goal of the season contender as promoted South Shields cruised to a 3-0 win at Tow Law Town.
Byrne scored an incredible volley to complete the scoring after setting himself up with two flicks into the air.
Also on the scoresheet were Ben Riding and Robert Briggs, who smashed a free-kick into the top corner as the Mariners moved to within two wins of securing the Ebac Northern League Division Two title.
There was a party atmosphere among the strong away contingent at Ironworks Road after Shields had wrapped up promotion two days earlier with a 1-0 victory at Easington Colliery.
However, any fears the Mariners would suffer a hangover were quickly allayed as they took control of the game from the outset.
Tow Law blocked a number of early efforts, while David Foley had two shots well saved by home goalkeeper Robbie Anderson within the first six minutes.
Foley also blasted an effort not far over after good link-up play with Martyn Coleman on the right, while Anderson denied Michael Turner after he aimed a shot from the left.
Anderson was again on hand to keep out a header from Riding, but it was Tow Law who came the closest to taking the lead, with Joe Johnson rattling the crossbar with a sweet strike from outside the box.
With 33 minutes played, Daryll Hall saw two headers blocked but the ball fell to Foley, who hooked the ball against the crossbar from close range as Shields were again unable to break the deadlock.
However, that changed seven minutes before half-time when Briggs’ corner from the right was flicked on to Riding, and he directed a brilliant header into the opposite top corner from the left of the box.
An even more impressive goal was scored soon after when Briggs picked his spot with a free-kick 25 yards out on the left, lifting it into the same section of the goal Riding had found minutes earlier.
Byrne was introduced from the bench two minutes before half-time after an injury to Stephen Ramsey, and two minutes after the break, he scored the goal which has since brought him headlines and attention across the globe.
The ball was headed out to him outside the box, and Byrne did the rest without the ball touching the floor. First, he flicked it into the air with his right foot, then he hooked it over his head before unleashing a stunning left foot volley which rippled into the bottom corner to cap off a stunning, almost miraculous, piece of play and add to Byrne’s growing collection of incredible goals.
Byrne continued to look the most likely player to score in the remainder of the match, and he headed a Foley cross not far wide with his next opportunity.
He also had a low effort from the left deflected just past the post, while at the other end, David Parker went close from distance as he crashed a shot into the side netting.
Riding almost claimed his second of the afternoon when he met a free-kick from deep by Danny Carson with a powerful header, but Anderson did brilliantly to push it away.
Byrne also nodded wide from a Turner cross, while Coleman, Byrne and Lewis Teasdale – on his return from injury – were not far off target.
The Mariners thought they had gone 4-0 up when Riding’s drive from distance was pushed out by Anderson to Byrne, but the flag controversially went up for offside after Shields’ top scorer had crashed the ball in.
A fourth goal continued to elude the away side, with Coleman having a shot deflected just over, Teasdale volleying wide from a corner and Foley seeing a low effort held by Anderson.
The one-way traffic continued, but without a final touch in the closing stages as Shields eventually settled for a 3-0 victory.
They go into their final four league fixtures of the season knowing that two wins will be enough to secure the league championship.
Their next match is at Northallerton Town on Wednesday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Richardson, Smith (Teasdale 63), Turner, Hall, Carson, Riding, Foley, Scroggins (c), Ramsey (Byrne 43), Coleman, Briggs (Hassan 50). Subs not used: Pocklington, Galpin.
Goals: Riding (38), Briggs (41), Byrne (47).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields secured promotion to Ebac Northern League Division One as Michael Turner’s header earned them a hard-fought win on a joyous night at Easington Colliery.
In what turned out to be one of the club’s most memorable nights for many a year, Shields were backed by an away contingent of hundreds.
They knew a win would be enough to seal promotion, and they had to wait until the 63rd minute for Turner to make the breakthrough.
It paved the way for a deserved victory for the Mariners, who were solid and composed, and always looked to be the side carrying the greater threat, although Easington kept them honest throughout and were well-organised.
With five games to spare, Shields are now assured of Northern League Division One football next season.
They were made to work hard by Easington, though, who have taken numerous scalps this term after winning promotion from the Wearside League last time out.
One of their best victories came against Shields at Mariners Park in September, but the Mariners controlled the game throughout last night.
Easington did, though, create the first opportunity, with Bradley Varga flashing a shot wide from a corner.
Shields almost took the lead within 12 minutes when Robert Briggs’ shot from the edge of the box came back off the post, and Martyn Coleman blazed the rebound over.
The former Penrith striker went close soon after when he turned his man and saw his effort deflected just wide, while Briggs also hit a shot not far past the post.
Eight minutes before half-time, a long throw from the right by Ben Riding was dropped by home goalkeeper Kyle Donaldson, and Daryll Hall’s volley through a sea of bodies was just kept out.
At the other end, Aidan Heywood sent a shot wide on the break, but the Mariners had more than edged the first 45 minutes.
They stepped things up after the break, and after Briggs and Hall were denied by Donaldson, the deadlock was broken in the 63rd minute.
Briggs delivered a superb corner into the danger zone from the right, and there to head it into the bottom corner was the ever-reliable Turner as the vocal travelling support was sent into raptures.
Coleman could have all but sealed it two minutes later when he was sent through on goal, but Donaldson did brilliantly to save with his foot.
A period of home pressure did not materialise, and Ian Redman almost scored an own goal as Shields harried their opponents.
Riding and Coleman went close in the latter stages, and the final whistle then confirmed the Mariners’ promotion to spark scenes of celebration.
It was perhaps fitting that the game was played in the shadows of Peterlee’s Eden Lane, where the Mariners played their home matches for two years prior to this season.
They can now look forward to hopefully better times ahead, and could move a step closer to clinching the title tomorrow when they travel to Tow Law Town.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Smith, Turner, Hall, Carson, Riding, Brown, Scroggins (c), Ramsey (Foley 86), Coleman, Briggs. Subs not used: Richardson, Hassan, Hughes, Byrne.
Goal: Turner (63).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.