Match Report: South Shields 3-1 Witton Albion

Match Report: South Shields 3-1 Witton Albion

Sam Hodgson was at the double as Kevin Phillips’ first home game as South Shields manager was marked with an entertaining 3-1 win over Witton Albion.

In front of the biggest crowd so far this season at 1st Cloud Arena, relegation-threatened Witton frustrated their hosts in the early stages, quickly cancelling out Cedric Main’s opener.

Academy graduate Hodgson headed home nine minutes before half-time, though, and Shields did not look back. His second goal midway through the second half sealed the points and ensured the Mariners would go into Saturday’s clash with Matlock Town sitting just three points behind the league leaders.

There was one change to the team which won 2-1 at Warrington Town three days earlier, with Hodgson replacing the injured JJ Hooper.

An energetic start from the Mariners led to an early opportunity created by Blair Adams, who drove inside from the left and sent in a dangerous low ball which Robert Briggs narrowly failed to connect with.

Witton quickly established a footing in the game, though, and fired their first warning when the dangerous Jesse Dowling drifted inside from the left and had an effort deflected wide.

From the resulting corner, Briggs made an acrobatic goal-line clearance to keep it scoreless as Albion demonstrated just what a difficult encounter the home side had on their hands.

Despite those close shaves at the other end, it was Shields who opened the scoring on 10 minutes.

Nathan Lowe arrowed a 20 yard free-kick against the crossbar and with goalkeeper Greg Hall on the floor after his sprawling effort to save it, Main pounced on the rebound to drive the ball home and notch his second goal in as many games.

The lead proved to be short-lived for Shields, who conceded an equaliser on the quarter-hour mark as Witton debutant Dowling drove in a low free-kick from the left which found the net.

That punctured the momentum the hosts had begun to build but Phillips’ side eventually regained control and found it easier to limit their opponents’ opportunities as the first half progressed.

They went on to create further chances of their own, with Adams a particularly strong threat down the left. He again sent a teasing pass across the face of goal on the half-hour which just evaded a touch.

Shields restored their advantage six minutes later as Hodgson vindicated his selection with a well-taken goal, stooping to direct a Conor Tee free-kick into the bottom corner at the factory end.

It could have been 3-1 shortly after the restart, but Lowe’s goalbound effort was cleared after initially trickling past visiting goalkeeper Greg Hall.

Witton started the second half strongly and Dowling was at the heart of their first chance, tricking his way past two challenges and then firing a ball across the face of goal which no attacker was on hand to convert.

Another opening fell their way within a minute of that and this time it was Callum Saunders who provided the danger, controlling a lofted pass before trickling a shot just wide from 12 yards.

Shields’ first attempt of the second period was a piledriver from long range by Tee which drifted not far wide, but the hosts were soon indebted to goalkeeper Scott Moloney at the other end as he made a tremendous save with his feet to deny Saunders.

A third goal was the solution the Mariners craved, and it arrived in the 67th minute. Adams received the ball in an excellent position in the box and when his strike was parried, Hodgson was there to convert the rebound from close range to double his tally for the night.

There was another major boost soon after for Shields as Jordan Hunter was reintroduced for the first time since September after recovering from a broken arm. He received a rapturous reception from the home faithful.

The remainder of the match was controlled well by the Mariners, although opportunities to extend the lead were in short supply.

There was one for Jack Bodenham with four minutes left, but his overhead kick cleared the crossbar after Dillon Morse had headed on a Lowe corner.

Lowe went closer to adding a fourth as the game edged towards stoppage time when substitute Darius Osei pulled the ball back to him on the right of the area. His curled strike looked set for the top corner but drifted inches past the post.

A hat-trick goal for Hodgson would have capped a fine night but it was not to be as the Shields advantage remained at two.

The Mariners’ fourth successive victory sets them up nicely for Saturday’s eagerly awaited meeting with Matlock at 1st Cloud Arena.

South Shields: Moloney, Rose (Hunter 71), Adams (c), McGowan, Morse, Bodenham, Tee (Osei 69), Lowe, Hodgson, Briggs, Main (Kempster 76). Subs not used: Shaw, Jenkins.

Goals: Main (10), Hodgson (36, 67).

Attendance: 2,378.

Image: ID Event Photography/Craig McNair.