South Shields slipped to a rare league defeat as Heaton Stannington battled to a 3-2 win at Grounsell Park on Wednesday.
Martyn Coleman’s first-half strike had drawn the Mariners level after they fell behind early on, but the hosts restored their lead before half-time and struck again late on to all but seal the points.
A header from Ben Riding in the closing stages was not enough for Shields as their title bid stuttered slightly and they were denied a 10th league win in a row.
The away side were relatively bright at the start of the game, and a strong run down the right by Coleman led to a shot from Robert Briggs which curled wide.
However, they conceded first in the eighth minute when they failed to deal with George Philipson’s free-kick from the right, with Ben Telford able to get to the ball first as he nodded it past Josh Richardson.
Barrie Smith and Leepaul Scroggins were not too far away from scoring before Shields did draw level on 18 minutes.
Julio Arca – who was returning from a four-match suspension – hit a low free-kick which was spilled by Heaton goalkeeper Matthew Smith, and Coleman was on hand to nudge the ball into the net.
Shields grew in confidence after restoring parity, and could have gone 2-1 up almost immediately when David Foley burst through on the right, but his pass into the box fell just behind Scroggins as the hosts cleared.
At the other end, Ryan Bailey was not far off target as he latched onto a flick-on, with the home captain firing a shot just past the post.
Neither side was able to create many clear-cut opportunities in the match, but the home team regained their lead five minutes before the break.
Some neat link-up play outside the box ended when Bailey was found in some space, and he made no mistake as he slotted into the net.
After half-time, Shields came out with some renewed purpose, and Briggs almost created an equaliser when his excellent ball from the left was volleyed not far wide by Foley at the back post.
Foley was a constant threat to Heaton, and after beating his man with some great skill on the right soon after, he had a rasping drive blocked.
Riding headed an effort over, before he was on hand at the other end to prevent the Mariners falling a further goal behind.
A header across goal by Peter Scott beat Richardson and looked destined to cross the line before Riding acrobatically cleared it in the nick of time. The home side appealed that the ball had crossed the line, but a goal was not given.
Shields were unable to capitalise on Riding’s brilliant clearance, although Coleman did have a decent chance inside the box which he hit over the top.
With 11 minutes left, some good build-up play led to Briggs volleying not far wide from the edge of the box, and Coleman dragged an effort past the post as the Mariners looked to increase the pressure in the closing stages.
However, the home side appeared to have put the game to bed with five minutes left.
They broke quickly on Shields, with Lewis Burns getting in behind on the inside-left of the box. He crossed the ball to the back post, presenting substitute Steven McCabe with a tap-in to spark jubilant scenes among the Heaton players.
Shields appeared to be a beaten team, but they showed they still had life in them when John Grey’s brilliant in-swinging corner from the right was headed past the defender on the line by Riding with three minutes remaining.
Suddenly, it was the Mariners with the momentum, and a golden chance for an equaliser fell to Scroggins just inside the area, but he snatched at it and sent it over.
Riding also had a header saved from a superb cross from deep by Danny Carson, while Michael Turner acrobatically volleyed over as the match slipped away.
It ended as a disappointing defeat for Shields, who will aim to return to winning ways on Saturday when they visit bottom-of-the-league Stokesley Sports Club.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Richardson, Smith (Ramsey 77), Turner, Carson, Riding, Arca (Grey 71), Foley, Scroggins (c), Coleman, Briggs, Brown (Byrne 55). Subs not used: Pocklington, Hall.
Goals: Coleman (18), Riding (87).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Mick Sharp.