South Shields hit Darlington RA for six as they delivered a performance of true quality at Mariners Park on Saturday.
The victory took the Mariners to the top of Ebac Northern League Division Two after three fixtures, with goals from David Foley, Warren Byrne (2), Michael Turner, Lee McMahon and Joe Melvin sealing the points.
The team also secured its first clean sheet of the season on a day when everything seemed to go right for Jon King’s side.
Shields were given a pre-match boost when defender Daryll Hall received his international clearance in time to start the game at Mariners Park.
He was one of three changes to the starting line-up from the midweek win over Billingham Town, with Byrne and Melvin also brought in.
It didn’t take long for the Mariners to make an impression, and Foley had them in front within two minutes. Barrie Smith and Byrne combined to release McMahon, and his through ball found Foley, who slotted it past the goalkeeper for his third goal in as many games.
RA – who had won their opening two matches of the campaign – responded well to the setback, and Shields goalkeeper Ryan Beal had to be on hand to palm behind a header from Michael Weston.
Beal also did well to keep out a long-range effort from Ashley Lavan, before killing the visitors’ next move as he came out quickly to collect a through ball before it reached Harvey Saunders.
That was as good as it got for the away side, with Shields reasserting their dominance from there.
On 13 minutes, Foley tried to thread a pass through to the dangerous Adam Sakr, who was through on goal, but a defender turned it behind for a corner, from which Hall nodded narrowly wide.
The referee awarded Shields a penalty after a foul on Byrne on 17 minutes, but then reversed his decision after seeing the linesman had raised his offside flag.
Byrne had a shot blocked and Melvin fired over before the Mariners scored their second of the afternoon on 22 minutes.
Beal’s lofted ball to the right found Sakr, who ran onto it and then delivered a low cross to the back post, where Byrne fired it into the roof of the net.
Shields looked menacing every time they attacked, and Hall, Melvin and Foley all sent efforts not far wide, with Melvin also having a shot blocked.
It seemed just a matter of time before the Mariners rattled in goal number three, and it arrived when Foley’s corner from the left was nodded in at the near post by Turner.
Two minutes later, and with just six to go until half-time, another goal was added to the scoresheet when another Sakr cross from the right found Byrne after being missed by a defender, and this time he sent an effort into the bottom corner to put the game to bed.
There could have been more before the break, and Leepaul Scroggins played in Foley on the right as players queued up in the centre, but a defender just managed to cut out the danger.
Goalkeeper Matthew Bancroft came out quickly to deny Foley in the next move, while at the other end, Beal surrendered possession after leaving his box on the left, but Saunders could not take advantage.
The Shields goalkeeper tipped behind a Saunders header before the break, which the hosts went into with a comfortable and deserved four-goal advantage.
Darlington RA came out of the blocks well in the second half, with Saunders dragging a shot wide within a minute of the restart, but it wasn’t long until the Mariners were in their flow again.
Byrne was denied with two efforts as he stepped up his efforts for a hat-trick, and Melvin went agonisingly close to registering his first goal for the club, but curled a shot just wide from nine yards out.
McMahon was the next player on the scoresheet. After receiving the ball about 25 yards out on the left, he curled in a teasing delivery which just evaded Byrne, and also did enough to deceive Bancroft as it bounced into the bottom corner.
Melvin got in on the act on 63 minutes when he was played in on the left of the box, and he deftly chipped the goalkeeper to open his Shields account.
Foley went close to scoring a blockbusting goal when his 25-yard piledriver went not far wide, and within a minute, the Shields forward was frustrated again as his powerful shot from the inside-left of the box was brilliantly palmed over by Bancroft.
The next chance fell to Scroggins after Turner’s low delivery from the left, but he just couldn’t get enough contact on it as he tried to glance it home with the side of his foot, and the ball went wide.
Scroggins was denied by Bancroft soon after when his shot was destined for the bottom corner, while the Shields captain was again left frustrated moments later when the linesman’s flag denied him a goal.
The Mariners went incredibly close to making it seven in the 83rd minute, with Byrne first chipping the goalkeeper and seeing his effort desperately saved on the line, with the officials waving away claims the ball had crossed the line. It came out to Foley, whose shot was blocked to Sakr, and his powerful effort from close range was somehow cleared off the line.
At the other end, Ben Riding made an outstanding block to deny Saunders a goal, while Shields went close twice more as Stephen Ramsey headed not far over, and then Byrne diverted the ball wide after losing his balance in the box as he had to settle for a brace.
Shields could, and perhaps should, have wrapped up an even bigger margin of victory, but it was still enough to take them above Ryhope CW on goals scored at the top of the table, although they have played just two league games so far this season.
The Mariners are next in action on Tuesday, with Heaton Stannington the visitors to Mariners Park from 3pm.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Beal, Smith, Turner, Hall, Galpin (Riding 76), McMahon (Chapim 66), Sakr, Scroggins (c), Byrne, Melvin (Ramsey 66), Foley. Subs not used: Young, Scott.
Goals: Foley (2), Byrne (22, 39), Turner (37), McMahon (53), Melvin (65).