South Shields eased to a 3-0 win at Stokesley as they moved to within two victories of sealing promotion to Ebac Northern League Division One.
The win over Division Two’s bottom side was all but secured within the first six minutes, as goals from David Foley and Michael Turner handed Shields a 2-0 lead.
The hosts held out well after that, but the ball was almost exclusively in the Mariners’ possession, with a number of chances created and Shields going close to adding a third on many occasions.
With 12 minutes left, Martyn Coleman finally did get goal number three, firing into the bottom corner from the edge of the box to seal the points.
Shields will win promotion if they beat Brandon United at home on Tuesday and then Easington Colliery away on Thursday.
They were always on top against bottom-of-the-table Stokesley, who went into the game with only eight points all season. However, one of those came at Mariners Park, where they claimed a shock 1-1 draw in September.
The Mariners did not seem in the mood for a repeat, and within a minute of the start, Robert Briggs had an effort blocked, while Warren Byrne headed over.
The bright start from the visitors was rewarded on three minutes when Danny Carson kept the ball in on the left flank and played it forward to Foley, who brought it inside before firing low past the goalkeeper.
Byrne went close to making it two soon after when he chested a cross from Briggs wide, but moments later, the second goal did arrive.
Briggs played a corner to Julio Arca on the edge of the box, and his placed effort was diverted into the path of Turner 10 yards out. He failed to get a shot away first-time, but swivelled and was able to get a second bite of it as he rifled low into the net.
Shields were threatening to run away with it early on, and several more half-opportunities came and went before Byrne was denied by a brilliant save from home goalkeeper Daniel Bowman, who kicked away his effort.
Leepaul Scroggins blasted a shot not far wide and Coleman sent a cross just over the bar before Foley went even closer when he was played in on the inside-left of the box. He looked odds-on to score, but his effort across goal kissed the outside of the post.
Stokesley were rarely able to exit their own half, but they defended resolutely as they got their bodies in their way of several shots from the likes of Foley and Arca.
Coleman looked certain to score on 27 minutes when Turner’s header forward beat the home defence, but after the striker rounded the goalkeeper, he saw his shot brilliantly cleared off the line by a defender.
The former Penrith man also had an effort deflected just past the post, while he powered one against the crossbar after turning his marker inside-out on the right of the box.
Byrne headed over with two minutes of the first half remaining, and Shields went in at the break wondering how they were just two goals ahead.
The pattern of play was not altered by the interval, although Shields did introduce Andy Brown from the bench to replace Briggs at half-time.
Four minutes into the second half, Coleman produced some good work on the right, and his fine cross was volleyed wide by Byrne.
Shields were convinced Byrne had scored their third soon after when he headed Arca’s cross goalwards. The ball was seemingly cleared from behind the line, but the officials ruled it was not a goal, much to Byrne’s disbelief.
The visitors continued to press, with the returning Scott Pocklington merely a bystander in goal on his first game back from injury.
Foley saw an effort deflected just over, while Turner had a powerful cross tipped onto the bar by Bowman.
Shields were relentless in their attacking, and Scroggins smashed an effort against a home defender before Arca went close to making it three, only to see his header from a Foley cross excellently palmed away by Bowman.
Again, the Mariners were convinced they had scored when Scroggins headed in a cross from Coleman, but again their celebrations were cut short as this time the flag was raised for offside.
Daryll Hall – who was a vocal presence at the back for Shields, and won almost every challenge in the air – had a header saved by Bowman before Pocklington was called into action for the first time with 13 minutes left as he kept out an effort from Clayton McDonald.
Within a minute of that save, the third goal finally arrived. Barrie Smith clipped a ball forward for Coleman, and he held it up before taking it inside and firing left-footed into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
In the latter stages, Shields were denied a fourth by numerous blocks, while substitute Stephen Ramsey almost slid in a low cross, only for Bowman to get there first.
Coleman also headed narrowly over in stoppage time, but they were unable to add another goal.
However, they did get back to winning ways as they moved a step closer to promotion.
They will hope to move to within one win of Division One on Tuesday by beating Brandon United at Mariners Park. Kick-off is at 7.30pm.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Smith, Turner, Hall, Carson, Arca, Briggs (Brown 46), Scroggins (c) (Hughes 70), Byrne (Ramsey 74), Coleman, Foley. Subs not used: Richardson, Riding.
Goals: Foley (3), Turner (6), Coleman (78).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.