South Shields cruised to a 4-0 win at Ryton and Crawcrook Albion as they moved further ahead at the top of Ebac Northern League Division Two.
John Grey put the Mariners into a half-time lead, but despite dominating most of the possession, they had to wait until late on before sealing the victory with goals from Stephen Ramsey, Julio Arca and David Foley.
The win put Shields eight points clear at the top of the league, although Ryhope CW have a game in hand.
They made just one change from the side which started Tuesday’s Durham Challenge Cup semi-final against Newton Aycliffe, with Mechack Kanda stepping in for the injured Lewis Teasdale.
Jon King’s team almost went ahead within two minutes when a cross from Martyn Coleman – who held the ball up superbly during the game – struck a defender before bouncing off the crossbar.
The deadlock was broken in the 12th minute after a fine move led to Foley picking up the ball on the right. He delivered a superb cross to the back post, where Grey was on hand to force home his third goal in 10 appearances for the Mariners.
Although Shields had the majority of the possession on a difficult pitch, Ryton did have their moments, and had a decent opportunity when Ryan Burnyeat failed to get much on an effort from distance.
At the other end, there was controversy when Robert Briggs’ menacing free-kick from the left touchline evaded everyone and found the net. The assistant referee raised his flag for offside against one of the Shields players in the centre, although none of them touched the ball.
Ryton will have felt that they should have levelled before the half-hour mark when the ball was pulled back across the box from the right, but Burnyeat missed his kick with the goal gaping.
Shields were the team doing most of the pressing, though, with a Coleman cross just beating those in the centre before efforts from Briggs and Foley were also kept out.
Another Briggs free-kick caused serious problems for the home side two minutes before half-time, and this time home goalkeeper Frazer Nairn did well to beat it over the bar.
At the break, Ramsey was introduced from the bench for the Mariners in place of injured captain Leepaul Scroggins, and they returned from the dressing room with renewed vigour.
Michael Turner, who was solid at the back throughout the game, hit an effort over from 25 yards, while Coleman and Briggs also had shots blocked.
However, there was soon some concern at the other end when Shields goalkeeper Scott Pocklington caught his studs in the mud and went down in real pain. A stretcher was called for and Pocklington was taken to hospital, where X-rays showed he had not broken his leg, but he has suffered ankle ligament damage.
Gareth Young came on in his place, but was rarely tested as the visitors continued to enjoy most of the ball.
A Ryton defender headed a Briggs free-kick over his own crossbar, and there was also an opportunity for Daryll Hall, who headed wide.
As the game went into the final 20 minutes, Shields came on even stronger, and almost went two ahead when Foley fizzed a low ball across goal which was just missed by the sliding Briggs.
Briggs had an effort saved before Foley almost scored a tremendous goal. After picking the ball up halfway inside the Ryton half on the left touchline, the former Hartlepool United man beat several defenders before finding himself in on goal, and he was only denied by a superb stop by Nairn.
It felt as though the second goal which would surely seal the points was on its way, but the Mariners had to stay aware at the other end.
On the rare occasions the hosts were able to get forward, they were invariably stopped by Hall or Turner, and after one such instance, the latter sent a ball forward for Coleman, who nicked the ball away from the goalkeeper but was just unable to prevent it running out of play.
Coleman became increasingly influential in the latter stages, and was denied by Nairn after another ball over the top before later setting up Ramsey, who saw a low effort kept out.
The second goal finally arrived six minutes from the end when Shields got in down the left after an impressive move, and Coleman showed good strength to turn his marker before pulling the ball across goal for Ramsey, who was able to tap in.
The floodgates threatened to open after that, with the home side’s resistance finally broken after a great effort.
Ramsey had a header saved before Foley was brought down in the penalty area a minute into stoppage time.
Arca took the ball and rattled it home as he scored his 10th goal for the Mariners.
There was still time for another goal for Shields, with Arca laying one on a plate for Foley with a terrific cross, with the forward showing great bravery to get on the end of it and nod it in.
Grey almost added a fifth when substitute Danny Carson’s cross fell to him at the back post, but Ryton managed to scramble it clear.
A fifth consecutive league victory for the Mariners was by then already secure, and they now have a midweek without a game before hosting Esh Winning on Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington (Young 54), Hassan, Grey, Hall, Turner, Arca, Foley, Scroggins (c) (Ramsey 46), Coleman, Kanda (Carson 67), Briggs. Subs not used: Byrne, Smith.
Goals: Grey (12), Ramsey (84), Arca (pen 90+2), Foley (90+4).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.