Billingham Town 1 VS 3 South Shields
Warren Byrne delivered a lesson in finishing as his hat-trick paved the way for a 19th consecutive victory for South Shields.
Byrne's goals saw off Billingham Town on a blustery day at Bedford Terrace as he took his tally for the season to 21.
The 3-1 win moved Shields six points clear at the top of Ebac Northern League Division Two on a day they had to do without a number of key performers.
Injured trio Lewis Galpin, Julio Arca and Lewis Teasdale watched from the sidelines, while Daryll Hall, Adam Sakr and Jonny Wightman were among the other players manager Jon King was not able to call upon.
The absences led to opportunities for James Heptinstall and Paul Kane, who were handed their first competitive starts of the season.
Less than three minutes into the game, the Mariners broke the deadlock to lay down a marker.
The ball was worked gradually from left to right and to Wayne Phillips, whose shot was parried by home goalkeeper Shaun Scotter. It broke to Byrne, who teased the sprawling Scotter twice as he showed great composure in the box before firing high into the net.
Robert Briggs could have made it two before the 10 minute mark, but he dragged an effort wide from the inside-left of the area.
Shields were playing with the wind at their backs, and restricted Billingham going forward.
When they did break through the back line, though, Scott Pocklington was on hand to quickly sense the danger and clear his lines.
A Phillips corner from the right almost went straight in as it bounced off the crossbar, while the next to go close was Briggs as he squeezed through on the inside-right of the box before his shot was stopped by the foot of Scotter.
Billingham failed to clear the ball effectively and so Shields attacked again, and this time Byrne's curler from 25 yards was tipped over.
A powerful 25-yard effort from Foley was deflected just wide, but Shields were almost caught out at the other end when a cross from the right found its way across to Foster Garton at the back post, and he took a touch before skewing a shot well over.
That was a rare home foray forward, though, and normal service was resumed as a Foley cross was headed narrowly over by a defender, Phillips sent an effort just wide and Scroggins hit a free-kick past the post before the interval.
After half-time, Billingham may have expected to have more joy going forward with the wind behind them, but Shields improved and killed the game off.
Confusion at the back from the hosts almost led to a second goal when Michael Turner sent the ball forward, while Byrne sliced wide from just outside the box as the Mariners put their opponents under pressure.
They were rewarded on 55 minutes when Kane and Briggs combined to release Scroggins through the centre, and his inch-perfect ball to Byrne sent the Shields frontman running away from goal on the inside-right of the box. Byrne coolly rolled the ball into the opposite bottom corner as he made it 20 for the season.
Kane and Briggs were both denied before Byrne finished Billingham off with his second hat-trick of the campaign.
He picked the ball up outside the box on the right and diagonally dribbled his way past the defence before firing a shot at goal. Scotter could not handle it, and the ball bounced before spinning into the net to send the vocal travelling support into raptures.
Within two minutes of the restart, Byrne almost had a fourth as his audacious chip from a tight angle bounced narrowly wide.
A home packpass in the area led to an indirect free-kick, but Phillips' powerful effort was blocked by the wall and the home side scrambled it clear.
The hosts rarely offered a real threat going forward, but Pocklington was called into action 13 minutes before the end when he kept out a Jamie Davis shot.
At the other end, substitute Andrew Bulford was denied by an impressive save by Scotter after he cut in from the left before firing a low effort.
Billingham got on the scoresheet in stoppage time when a superb through ball by Jack Connor was finished off by Craig Hutchinson to deny the Mariners a clean sheet.
However, as far as the points were concerned, the job was already done as Shields warmed up for next week's FA Vase tie against Morpeth Town with yet another win.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Smith, Heptinstall, Turner, Riding, Briggs, Foley (Bulford 70), Scroggins (c), Byrne, Kane, Phillips. Subs not used: Young, Ramsey, Hall.
GOALS: Byrne (3, 55, 65).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.