Northern League champions South Shields capped off a superb league campaign as they won 3-2 at Guisborough Town.
The Mariners lifted the league trophy after the game, which they won thanks to goals from Jordan Blinco, Barrie Smith and Carl Finnigan.
Despite a host of changes being made to the starting line-up, that didn’t seem to affect Shields as they ended the season on 108 points and set themselves up nicely for three cup finals.
For Guisborough, meanwhile, the defeat meant relegation to Northern League Division Two, barring a reprieve should only two teams be relegated as a result of the Mariners’ promotion.
However Saturday’s game went, a party atmosphere was a certainty as an estimated 750 travelling supporters descended on Guisborough, just four days after the Mariners had sealed the title.
For once, the result was not paramount, but with places in the team for the Durham Challenge Cup, League Cup and FA Vase finals up for grabs, there was never any danger of Shields taking their foot off the gas.
A line-up showing eight changes from the team which beat Ashington on Tuesday took just 100 seconds to take the lead.
Harrison Scott, making his debut at right-back, did well on the flank before playing the ball into the feet of Blinco. His lay-off was intercepted by home defender Matthew Lovatt, but the ball broke back to him and his first-time effort from 20 yards found its way under home goalkeeper James Dawson.
With Guisborough battling to avoid relegation, Shields’ early goal was never likely to kill their threat or desire, and they showed good spirit to force their way back into the game.
Ben Hugill had their first sight of goal, but his shot from the edge of the box was easily held by Pete Jameson.
Jameson was beaten on 14 minutes, though, as Guisborough equalised. A ball was floated in from the left by David Onions and the dangerous Steven Roberts nipped in behind to nudge the ball home.
On the rare occasions Shields have suffered adversity this season, they have generally responded swiftly, so it should have been no surprise to see them retake the lead less than three minutes later.
Anthony Callaghan brought the ball forward from the left and played it to Blinco, who showed good strength to hold off his marker before breaking free and finding Smith in space. The long-serving midfielder took a touch and then hammered a shot into the bottom corner from the inside-right of the box to break his duck for the season.
Roberts always looked the home side’s biggest threat, and he tested Jameson with a free-kick which had to be tipped over.
Shields became more and more dominant the longer the first half went on, and a number of good opportunities came and went.
Smith dragged a shot wide from 20 yards, Robert Briggs had a free-kick tipped over and then Darren Holden went the closest of all, firing an effort against the post as the Mariners tried to make their pressure count.
Blinco also went close before the break, but his low curler from outside the area went just past the post.
After half-time, things were more even as the Priorymen tried to secure Division One status.
They went close to equalising when Gary Wood found himself in space on the left of the box, but Jameson denied him with his feet.
Shields themselves almost scored when Blinco got in behind on the right and pulled the ball across the box for Finnigan, but Guisborough scrambled to safety and created a chance themselves on the counter-attack, with Louis Goldsack volleying over.
Onions also directed a decent opportunity wide, while Anthony Snook was unfortunate not to level the scores when his piledriver from 30 yards was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Jameson.
The Mariners were having to withstand some pressure, and responded by introducing David Foley from the bench. His pace would prove to have a decisive impact.
Within five minutes of his introduction, he had burst through on the right after being found by fellow substitute Michael Richardson, and when he played the ball low into the area, Finnigan made no mistake as it became 3-1.
That all but killed off Guisborough hopes, and Shields looked likely to add to the scoring before the end of the 90 minutes.
Foley hit an effort inches wide after again getting in behind on the right, while Finnigan had a header saved from a Briggs free-kick.
The hosts did not allow their heads to drop, though, and pulled a goal back in stoppage time when Goldsack met a cross from the right with his head, and diverted it beyond the reach of Jameson.
There was no time left for Guisborough to force their way back into contention, though, and the final whistle soon went to signal the end of a hugely successful league campaign for the Mariners.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Jameson, Scott (Richardson 45+5), Callaghan, Briggs, Petrache (Lough 82), Storey, Smith (c), Holden, Finnigan, Stephenson, Blinco (Foley 71). Subs not used: Connell, Phillips.
Goals: Blinco (2), Smith (17), Finnigan (76).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields won the Northern League title for the first time in the club’s history with a 4-1 victory on a memorable night at Ashington.
Roared on by a huge travelling support in a crowd of over 1,000, Shields raced into a three-goal lead inside the first 18 minutes to take a tight grip on the three points.
Although the Colliers came into it more in the second half and pulled a goal back, there was no stopping the Mariners.
Gavin Cogdon struck in stoppage time to add to the first half goals from David Foley (2) and Michael Richardson as Shields moved into an unassailable position at the top of the table.
What followed were euphoric scenes as players and staff celebrated with the supporters, with champagne flowing and the crowd serenading their heroes.
The Mariners had at one stage in the season trailed then-leaders North Shields by 17 points, albeit with five games in hand, but have now sealed the title with a match to spare.
They went into the game at Ashington knowing maximum points would be enough, but suffered a blow on the day of the game when Carl Finnigan – who had scored four goals in his previous two games – was ruled out through injury.
The match did not start in the best manner, either, with Ashington missing a decent early chance when former Shields striker Andrew Bulford turned a knockdown by Ben Harmison wide.
At the other end, the first sighter for the Mariners came when Cogdon headed the ball to Richardson, and he hit a volley not far wide.
The deadlock was broken in the 11th minute when Robert Briggs took a quick throw on the right, allowing Foley to get in behind and fire a shot into the bottom corner for his 31st goal of the season.
He had to wait just four more minutes for goal number 32, and again Briggs was the creator.
This time it was a more orthodox assist for the midfielder as he brilliantly beat the defence with a through ball, allowing Foley to run through, touch the ball around goalkeeper Conor Grant and gratefully stroke it into an empty net.
If that gave Ashington a mountain climb, it was all but game over in the 18th minute.
A ball forward led to confusion between Grant and a defender outside the penalty area and the Ashington duo collided, with the ball bouncing to Richardson, who superbly lifted it over the top of them and into the net via a bounce.
Richardson almost followed Foley in scoring his brace when he was played through on Grant by Barrie Smith, but this time the goalkeeper made a good save to foil the Shields man.
With the job almost done, the Mariners perhaps subconsciously took their foot off the pedal as Ashington came more into proceedings.
Former Shields trialist Luke Salmon volleyed an effort over and Bulford saw a shot deflected wide, but the Colliers were unable to get on the scoresheet before the break to put some pressure on their visitors.
In fact, it could have been four before half-time, only for a shot from Briggs to go past the post.
Ashington were better in the second half, with Shields unable to get a strong hold of possession or threaten in the key areas.
Salmon went closest for the home side when he drilled an attempt narrowly wide, while Bulford was also not far away with an effort after being found in the area.
The hosts got the goal their play arguably deserved when substitute Ryan McGorrigan got hold of a loose ball in the box and did brilliantly to flick it over Liam Connell and in.
Shields were still comfortable enough to feel very confident of seeing out the game, but did more than that as it ticked into the second minute of stoppage time.
Cogdon captalised on a slip from a home defender to run in on goal from the inside-right channel and rifle a shot into the roof of the net to really get the party started.
The joyous scenes at the end are unlikely to ever be forgotten by any of those with a Shields persuasion who witnessed them as appreciation for a terrific league season was shown.
The Mariners will complete their league programme on Saturday by travelling to Guisborough Town.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Smith, Callaghan (Storey 67), Shaw, Lough, Arca (c) (Holden 47), Briggs, Phillips (Petrache 77), Cogdon, Richardson, Foley. Subs not used: Jameson, Stephenson.
Goals: Foley (11, 15), Richardson (18), Cogdon (90+2).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
Morpeth Town struck a stoppage time equaliser as South Shields were denied the chance to wrap up the Northern League title.
Shields were on course for their 33rd win in a row when Carl Finnigan stabbed them in front early on in front of a Mariners Park crowd of over 2,000.
It was a lead they held until a minute into second half stoppage time, when Morpeth substitute Mark Davison headed in a corner to keep their own title hopes alive.
The result kept the Mariners seven points clear of their opponents in the table, with the Highwaymen having three games left to play, compared to Shields’ two.
Shields will get another chance to seal the title on Tuesday, when they travel to Ashington knowing a win would be enough.
They had enjoyed a dream start against Morpeth, taking the lead within the opening three minutes.
A Wayne Phillips free-kick from the right flank was headed across goal by Jon Shaw and into the path of Finnigan, who took a touch before rifling low into the net as he scored his fourth goal in two games.
Despite that early goal, both teams struggled to find their best form in tricky, windy conditions.
Shields had the better opportunities, particularly in the first half, but could not grab that all-important second goal.
The closest they came was when a clipped ball over the top was raced onto by Gavin Cogdon, who flicked it over onrushing goalkeeper Karl Dryden before sending a tame effort goalwards which was easily cleared by the head of Chris Reid.
Phillips hit a shot into the side netting and David Foley fizzed a ball across the box which begged a touch, but did not get one, as the Mariners took a one-goal lead into the break.
They almost doubled that advantage just 15 seconds into the second half when Cogdon found himself in space on the inside-right of the box, but he drilled the ball across goal and it narrowly went past the post.
Shields’ rhythm was disrupted somewhat when Craig Baxter had to be brought off with just over an hour played because of a fractured wrist.
Louis Storey replaced him and slotted in alongside Jon Shaw at centre-back, with Darren Lough moved to left-back and Anthony Callaghan switched to the opposite side.
Thereafter followed Morpeth’s best spell of the game, with first captain Keith Graydon curling a free-kick wide and then Liam Connell called upon to make an excellent fingertip stop to deny Liam Henderson.
Joe Walton also smashed an effort not far over from 20 yards, but Shields got through that slight onslaught and went on to control the ball again.
They had three good chances to make it 2-0, and the closest they came was when Finnigan latched onto an excellent through ball by Julio Arca, only to be denied by the foot of Dryden as the goalkeeper made a superb save.
Gavin Cogdon skewed a shot wide when Dryden’s punch later in the match fell to his feet, while Michael Richardson also mis-hit an effort off target as Shields were unable to make their pressure count.
It looked unlikely to cost them, with the Mariners still looking the more likely team to score, and Robert Briggs was the next to try his luck as he fired over from the edge of the box.
The game appeared to be petering out and Shields were ready to celebrate, only to be hit by a sucker punch a minute into stoppage time.
A drilled corner from the right by Sean Taylor went over the heads of both sets of players until it reached Mark Davison at the back post, and he nodded into the bottom corner to earn the Highwaymen a point.
At the end, the Mariners players started to trudge off with their heads bowed, until the reaction of their supporters told them that the general feeling in the ground was slight frustration, rather than disappointment.
They showed their appreciation for the fine efforts of the players throughout the season at Mariners Park, with all concerned now hoping the celebrations come on Tuesday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter (Storey 61), Callaghan, Shaw, Lough, Arca (c), Stephenson (Briggs 84), Phillips, Cogdon, Finnigan, Foley (Richardson 70). Subs not used: Smith, Petrache.
Goal: Finnigan (3).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.