Ashington 1 VS 4 South Shields
South Shields won the Northern League title for the first time in the club's history with a 4-1 victory on a memorable night at Ashington.
Roared on by a huge travelling support in a crowd of over 1,000, Shields raced into a three-goal lead inside the first 18 minutes to take a tight grip on the three points.
Although the Colliers came into it more in the second half and pulled a goal back, there was no stopping the Mariners.
Gavin Cogdon struck in stoppage time to add to the first half goals from David Foley (2) and Michael Richardson as Shields moved into an unassailable position at the top of the table.
What followed were euphoric scenes as players and staff celebrated with the supporters, with champagne flowing and the crowd serenading their heroes.
The Mariners had at one stage in the season trailed then-leaders North Shields by 17 points, albeit with five games in hand, but have now sealed the title with a match to spare.
They went into the game at Ashington knowing maximum points would be enough, but suffered a blow on the day of the game when Carl Finnigan - who had scored four goals in his previous two games - was ruled out through injury.
The match did not start in the best manner, either, with Ashington missing a decent early chance when former Shields striker Andrew Bulford turned a knockdown by Ben Harmison wide.
At the other end, the first sighter for the Mariners came when Cogdon headed the ball to Richardson, and he hit a volley not far wide.
The deadlock was broken in the 11th minute when Robert Briggs took a quick throw on the right, allowing Foley to get in behind and fire a shot into the bottom corner for his 31st goal of the season.
He had to wait just four more minutes for goal number 32, and again Briggs was the creator.
This time it was a more orthodox assist for the midfielder as he brilliantly beat the defence with a through ball, allowing Foley to run through, touch the ball around goalkeeper Conor Grant and gratefully stroke it into an empty net.
If that gave Ashington a mountain climb, it was all but game over in the 18th minute.
A ball forward led to confusion between Grant and a defender outside the penalty area and the Ashington duo collided, with the ball bouncing to Richardson, who superbly lifted it over the top of them and into the net via a bounce.
Richardson almost followed Foley in scoring his brace when he was played through on Grant by Barrie Smith, but this time the goalkeeper made a good save to foil the Shields man.
With the job almost done, the Mariners perhaps subconsciously took their foot off the pedal as Ashington came more into proceedings.
Former Shields trialist Luke Salmon volleyed an effort over and Bulford saw a shot deflected wide, but the Colliers were unable to get on the scoresheet before the break to put some pressure on their visitors.
In fact, it could have been four before half-time, only for a shot from Briggs to go past the post.
Ashington were better in the second half, with Shields unable to get a strong hold of possession or threaten in the key areas.
Salmon went closest for the home side when he drilled an attempt narrowly wide, while Bulford was also not far away with an effort after being found in the area.
The hosts got the goal their play arguably deserved when substitute Ryan McGorrigan got hold of a loose ball in the box and did brilliantly to flick it over Liam Connell and in.
Shields were still comfortable enough to feel very confident of seeing out the game, but did more than that as it ticked into the second minute of stoppage time.
Cogdon captalised on a slip from a home defender to run in on goal from the inside-right channel and rifle a shot into the roof of the net to really get the party started.
The joyous scenes at the end are unlikely to ever be forgotten by any of those with a Shields persuasion who witnessed them as appreciation for a terrific league season was shown.
The Mariners will complete their league programme on Saturday by travelling to Guisborough Town.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Smith, Callaghan (Storey 67), Shaw, Lough, Arca (c) (Holden 47), Briggs, Phillips (Petrache 77), Cogdon, Richardson, Foley. Subs not used: Jameson, Stephenson.
Goals: Foley (11, 15), Richardson (18), Cogdon (90+2).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.