Warren Byrne played the role of supersub as he stepped off the bench to fire South Shields to all three points at Whickham on Tuesday.
The striker made it 12 goals in 12 appearances this season just six minutes after being introduced as a substitute, with a fine finish giving home goalkeeper John Mordey no chance.
It was a victory the Mariners were made to work hard for, with Whickham protecting an unbeaten home record, but they got there in the end to make it five consecutive wins without conceding a goal.
Much of their success at the Glebe was based on their solidity as a team, with the hosts heavily restricted going forward.
Jon King’s side perhaps did not create as many clear-cut opportunities as they would have liked, but when one did fall, Byrne duly obliged with 19 minutes remaining.
Both sides went into the game missing several players, with Shields without the likes of Daryll Hall, David Foley, Julio Arca, Robert Briggs and Adam Sakr.
In front of another extremely strong travelling support, the Mariners created the first half-chance of the game as Andrew Bulford clipped a shot wide from 25 yards.
Leepaul Scroggins let fly with an ambitious free-kick from even further out soon after, and his effort went not far over the crossbar.
Bulford also screwed a shot wide after being found on the left by a terrific through ball from Gilberto Chapim, while a right-wing long throw by Ben Riding evaded everyone and bounced off the crossbar before going behind.
Whickham’s brightest moment in the first half came when Chad Collins dribbled his way through the centre before shooting, but his effort was never going to be strong enough to beat Scott Pocklington.
Before half-time, Shields had a number of opportunities to open the scoring.
Jonny Wightman had a shot blocked before a Stephen Ramsey effort was deflected wide, and from the resulting corner, Riding’s header took a nick before going behind. The next set-piece led to a header by Chapim which went over the bar.
The deadlock was almost broken two minutes into stoppage time when Riding’s left-wing cross came back off the crossbar, but the teams went back to the dressing rooms all-square.
A big opportunity arrived within three minutes of the restart when a cross from Wightman on the right was nodded down by Bulford to Ramsey, but the ball went just behind the Shields striker and his effort did not have enough on it to trouble Mordey.
More chances came soon after, with Bulford missing his kick from a decent position, while a Wightman shot was deflected wide and Bulford headed over.
Ramsey had a flicked header saved before being withdrawn on 65 minutes and replaced by Byrne.
Shields had a big penalty appeal for handball turned down, but they did not have to wait too much longer for what turned out to be the winner.
First, Wayne Phillips went on a dangerous run down the left before his delivery went into the side netting.
From the goal kick, Mordey’s clearance was headed back up-field by Riding and then diverted forward by Phillips, who found Byrne with his back to goal on the right of the box. He held off the challenge of Kris Holmes, keeping the ball well away from the defender before firing across goal and into the bottom corner.
The finish never appeared to be in any doubt, and once Shields went in front, the result didn’t, either.
Whickham did create a half-chance four minutes before the end when a free-kick was chipped into the box from the halfway line, but the Mariners scrambled it clear and never appeared in any real danger.
Bulford shot wide late on as Shields looked for a clincher, but in the end, they didn’t need it as they sent their fans home happy again to move up to second in the Ebac Northern League Division Two table.
They take a break from league action on Saturday, with a mouth-watering FA Vase tie against Washington at Mariners Park.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Smith, Curry (Turner 68), Galpin, Riding, Chapim, Wightman, Scroggins (c), Bulford, Ramsey (Byrne 65), Phillips. Subs not used: Young, Heptinstall, Kane.
Goals: Byrne (71).