Warren Byrne was the saviour for South Shields as his brace secured a 4-2 win over a spirited Esh Winning side at Mariners Park.
In front of a four-figure crowd, the Ebac Northern League Division Two leaders looked to be heading for a comfortable victory after a dominant first half, with goals from Martyn Coleman and Julio Arca handing them a 2-0 lead.
However, relegation-threatened Esh battled back in the second half, and drew level with two strikes from distance by Daniel Mann.
Byrne was introduced as a half-time substitute by Shields, and within 16 seconds of the restart following the visitors’ equaliser, he had restored the lead.
He then wrapped up the points in the closing stages with a stunning volley shortly after Esh midfielder Nathan Graham had been sent off for a poor challenge on Arca.
The Mariners went into the game without a number of players, and Josh Richardson was handed his debut in goal after signing from Penrith just over four hours beforehand.
However, they dominated the first half, and would have felt they should have been more comfortably ahead at half-time.
Michael Turner headed the first opportunity over from a Robert Briggs free-kick, while Briggs himself hit a miscued clearance from the visiting goalkeeper narrowly over.
David Foley went closer in the 10th minute when Stephen Ramsey nodded the ball back to him, but with the forward slightly off-balance, he could only turn it wide.
The pressure on the visitors increased, and Foley went on a superb run through the centre before sliding the ball through to Ramsey, who was tackled in the nick of time. However, the ball broke to Adam Sakr, who could only divert it into the path of goalkeeper Daniel Burdess.
A goal almost arrived in the next attack as Ramsey cannoned an effort against a defender, with Burdess again doing well to keep it out.
The deadlock looked set to be broken when Coleman was played in on goal, but his shot was straight at Burdess. The rebound fell to Briggs on the edge of the box, and his effort took a deflection before going inches wide.
Shields continued to knock on the door, with Ramsey heading wide from a Briggs corner, and both he and Foley having shots deflected behind, while at the other end, Ibby Hassan halted a rare Esh Winning attack with a terrific tackle.
Briggs hit an effort narrowly off target before the visitors went close again, with Daniel Maddison played in on goal on the inside-left of the box before firing an effort not far past the post.
That was the wake-up call the Mariners needed, and they were more clinical in the remainder of the first half.
The first goal duly arrived on 28 minutes when Arca played the ball through to Coleman, and he showed his strength to beat his marker and hold him off before rifling a shot into the roof of the net from the inside-right of the box.
Moments later, the same player hit a shot over after being played in by Foley, and in the next attack, Coleman was brought down in the area, prompting the referee to point to the spot.
Arca made no mistake with the penalty as he hit it low and central, with his effort having enough on it to beat Burdess as the former Sunderland and Middlesbrough midfielder, who was Shields captain for the day, made it 11 goals for the season.
Despite numerous opportunities, the Mariners were unable to further add to their goal tally before half-time.
Arca hit a shot over, and then a cross from the Argentinean narrowly avoided Coleman and Hassan in the centre as it begged to be headed in.
A strong appeal for another penalty was turned down when Coleman appeared to be fouled in the area, while Ramsey should have made it 3-0 when Coleman pulled the ball across the box for him, but he fired over.
Hassan had a header saved, while at the other end, Graham hit an effort over on a rare foray forward.
In front of a crowd of 1,015, the Mariners picked up where they left off at the start of the second half, with Byrne and Daryll Hall introduced from the bench at the break.
Within 30 seconds of Byrne coming on, he almost added a third goal for Shields as he made space for himself in the area before being denied by an impressive save.
He also had a big penalty appeal rejected soon after, while Briggs headed an inviting cross by John Grey past the post.
The pressure on the Esh Winning goal became greater as Coleman ran at the defence, but his low effort from the edge of the box struck the post, and the goalkeeper also saved well from Briggs after he was played in on goal.
Foley and Coleman also went close before the visitors started to get something of a foothold in proceedings, and a quick break led to a burst out of his box by Richardson, who fouled his man and conceded a free-kick.
From that, the ball was pulled back to Daniel Mann 30 yards out, and his drive into the bottom corner was unstoppable as Keith Brown’s side dragged themselves back into the game.
Suddenly, they were the team in the ascendancy as the Mariners started to come under serious pressure for the first time.
Adam Ward hit a shot well wide from distance, while Turner needed to be on hand to tackle Maddison just as he appeared to be going one-on-one with Richardson.
The scare for Shields started to turn into a nightmare in the 69th minute when Esh nicked the ball in midfield and moved forward quickly. Mann ran towards the box, and his effort from 25 yards took a wicked bounce in front of Richardson before hitting the goalkeeper and looping into the net to leave Mariners Park stunned.
Shields were in need of a quick response, and it couldn’t have been swifter. Within 16 seconds of the restart, they were back in front.
Arca rolled the ball to Byrne just outside the box, and he turned his man before hitting a superb first-time shot into the bottom corner as he claimed his 25th goal of the season.
That settled some of the Mariners’ nerves, and the points were almost sealed soon after, but Foley was denied by a superb save by the foot of the goalkeeper.
With seven minutes remaining, Arca received the ball in the left channel for Shields and Graham went hurtling towards him before hacking him down. After giving himself time to think about the decision, the referee produced a straight red card for the Esh Winning man.
That all but ended the visitors’ hopes of leaving Mariners Park with a point, and Shields set about putting the game to bed, with Hall shooting just wide, Byrne having a header excellently saved and Briggs seeing an effort deflected wide.
However, the clincher finally arrived two minutes before the end when Briggs’ corner from the right fell invitingly for Byrne in the centre, and he swivelled mid-air before powering a low volley past the goalkeeper for his second goal of the afternoon.
The points were therefore sealed for the Mariners after they had been given a scare, and they will hope for a better performance on Tuesday, when North Shields visit South Tyneside in the League Cup.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Richardson, Carson, Grey, Hassan (Hall 46), Turner, Arca (c), Sakr (Smith 61), Briggs, Coleman, Ramsey (Byrne 46), Foley. Subs not used: Young, Scroggins.
Goals: Coleman (28), Arca (pen 33), Byrne (70, 88).
TGS Industrial Man of the Match: Warren Byrne.
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.