South Shields broke down a resilient Brandon United side as they battled to a 3-1 victory which put them within touching distance of securing promotion.
The visitors held out for more than an hour at Mariners Park, but Martyn Coleman then broke through with a double before Leepaul Scroggins wrapped up the points with a thumping strike into the top corner.
Brandon claimed a last-gasp consolation goal, but that did not dampen the Shields delight as they moved just a win away from sealing a place in Ebac Northern League Division One.
The game was played in front of a crowd of 660 at Mariners Park, which pushed the overall figure since returning to the ground last July – including friendlies – beyond the 20,000 mark.
However, the fans had little to cheer in the first half as Brandon frustrated the league leaders.
They were almost opened up early on when Julio Arca’s impressive pass played in Warren Byrne, but his shot was deflected behind for a corner.
The main bright spark in the early stages for Shields was Andy Brown, who produced an impressive performance on his home debut, with his ball-winning skills in particular coming to the fore.
He also showed his ability from set-piece situations, with one whipped corner from the left being headed not far past the post.
Coleman nodded a cross from Arca wide, but the closest the Mariners came to opening the scoring in the first half was when John Grey got on the end of a cross from Barrie Smith, but his effort struck the crossbar.
The Shields frustration grew in the second half, with Brandon continuing to put up a great fight as they restricted the hosts, who were without David Foley and Robert Briggs, as well as the likes of Lewis Teasdale, Wayne Phillips and Lewis Galpin.
The situation was summed up when Byrne turned his man on the edge of the box and looked odds-on to get a shot on target, but his effort hit team-mate Coleman and arrowed just wide.
Byrne also saw a huge penalty appeal turned down when he appeared to be tripped in the area, while at the other end, Scott Pocklington was on hand to keep out a shot from James Ellis as Brandon countered.
Eventually, though, Shields broke the deadlock on 65 minutes.
Michael Turner’s pass forward from just inside the Brandon half allowed Coleman to break free of the visiting defence, and after he touched the ball around the goalkeeper, he hit a shot towards goal which looked like it might not have enough on it, but went through the legs of a despairing defender and trickled over the line.
Shields almost went 2-0 ahead immediately when they won the ball back from Brandon’s kick-off and Byrne was released on the left. He ran into the box, beat a defender and then hit an effort which goalkeeper Jack Wilson parried into the air before Joseph Calbert was able to hook it clear.
The Mariners had to wait until 13 minutes from time to add their second, and it was delivered from a free-kick which came following a powerful run down the left by Turner, who was eventually fouled just outside the box on the left.
That gave Brown another opportunity to show his ability with the dead ball, and he sent in an inviting cross which Coleman was on hand to volley home from close range.
A minute into stoppage time, a third goal arrived for the Mariners. Substitute Stephen Ramsey – who had a fine impact on the game – hooked the ball in from the right and then Coleman fed Scroggins, who blasted a shot into the top corner from just inside the box.
However, there was still time for Brandon to get on the scoresheet themselves, with substitute Paul Basey getting a consolation as he capitalised on an error, sweeping the ball into an empty net.
That mattered little, though, with Shields now just one win away from securing promotion. They will guarantee themselves a place in next season’s Ebac Northern League Division One if they are victorious at Easington Colliery on Thursday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Smith, Turner, Hall, Riding, Arca (Hughes 78), Brown, Scroggins (c), Byrne (Ramsey 74), Coleman, Grey (Carson 71). Subs not used: Richardson, Hassan.
Goals: Coleman (65, 77), Scroggins (90+1).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.