South Shields were in commanding form as they claimed three vital points in a much-deserved 2-0 win at Team Northumbria.
A Julio Arca penalty gave Shields a first half lead, and Martyn Coleman added a second goal after the break as the hosts’ 12-match unbeaten run in the league was ended.
It was also just the students’ second home league loss of the season, as Shields beat them for the third time without conceding this campaign.
The Mariners were backed by a superb away following estimated to be between 300 and 350 in a crowd of 402 at Coach Lane.
And they saw their side start brightly, with David Foley cutting inside from the right before firing a low shot just past the post after being found by a superb cross-field ball by Wayne Phillips.
Shields went with a new-look centre-back pairing of Ibby Hassan and Danny Carson, but they were powerless as a free-kick from home captain Matthew Tumilty crashed against the crossbar in the ninth minute.
At the other end, the ever-dangerous Foley had a number of shots deflected behind, while Coleman’s header from an Arca free-kick was not far off target.
Shields came close to opening the scoring on 18 minutes when a corner was taken quickly and the ball was pulled back to Robert Briggs just outside the box, but he curled a shot just wide.
The key moment came in the next attack when Coleman was put through on goal, and although he was forced wide, Team Northumbria goalkeeper Steven Mundy pursued him. After making several efforts to touch the ball, Mundy eventually brought down Coleman, and the referee pointed to the spot.
Up stepped Arca, who coolly hit the ball low into the net as he sent Mundy the wrong way.
With the confidence of being a goal up, the Mariners continued to impress, with Briggs, Arca and Leepaul Scroggins pulling the strings from midfield.
A through ball from Briggs almost released Foley for a clear run on goal, but a home defender just managed to nick it away.
Meanwhile, Coleman narrowly failed to get on the end of a superb Briggs free-kick from the right, and Foley had a shot well kept out by Mundy.
Team Northumbria struggled to break through the Shields back line, and on the one occasion Samuel Perez looked set to have an opportunity, the Mariners back line managed to clear the danger.
Six minutes before the break, Foley went close to extending Shields’ lead with a stunning drive from 25 yards, but it smashed against the crossbar.
The students came out strongly after half-time, and the Mariners had to deal with some pressure in the early moments.
A dangerous cross from the left caused some problems, while Scott Pocklington got down well to palm behind an effort from Kevin Carr.
Shields ended the hosts’ good spell in the best possible fashion, though, as they added a second goal just before the hour mark.
Once again, Briggs was at the heart of it, and when he slid the ball through to Coleman on the inside-left of the box, there appeared little doubt as to the outcome. Sure enough, the former Penrith striker beat the goalkeeper with an assured low effort into the bottom corner, and the Mariners were well on their way to a crucial victory.
Shields motored on as they looked to put the game to bed, and in their next attack, Briggs again put Coleman through, but this time Mundy did well to divert his shot over with a foot.
Briggs was again the creator when Foley volleyed not far wide, while substitute Mechack Kanda went close to scoring immediately after being brought on when he beat his man before firing a shot just off target.
Foley and Coleman were also denied in close succession, before Barrie Smith went even closer when he carried the ball from the right before his superb effort hit the post. Foley was first to the rebound, but saw his shot blocked.
Scroggins almost added his name to the scoresheet when he got his head on the end of a left-wing cross, but Mundy kept it out, while the closest the students came to a consolation was when they headed wide from a free-kick late on.
Shields showed many of their best qualities on a day they underlined their promotion and title credentials and moved onto five wins in a row.
They will hope to keep up their fine form on Wednesday, when they travel to Billingham Synthonia in the quarter-final of the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Smith, Grey (Turner 72), Hassan, Carson, Arca, Foley, Scroggins (c), Coleman, Briggs, Phillips (Kanda 77). Subs not used: Young, Teasdale, Hall.
Goals: Arca (pen 20), Coleman (59).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.