South Shields hit five past Brighouse Town for the second time this season as they went six points clear at the top of the Evo-Stik North Division.
The Mariners went in at half-time with a 2-0 lead after goals from Carl Finnigan and Louis Storey, but Brighouse battled well in the second half, and pulled one back with a strike from Gabriel Johnson.
The hosts’ good spell ended when defender Adam Field was shown a red card for a foul in the penalty area, with Barrie Smith dispatching the resulting spot-kick to restore Shields’ two-goal advantage.
Graeme Armstrong netted his first goal for the club and Alex Nicholson scored late on to seal an ultimately comfortable win for the Mariners against a team they beat 5-0 in August.
Shields started the game strongly, and could have opened the scoring within four minutes when Craig Baxter’s effort from 20 yards was parried to Finnigan, who struck the post with the rebound. The offside flag had already been raised, though.
Finnigan had another chance 10 minutes later as Louis Storey played a superb through ball, but skewed his shot comfortably wide of the target.
He made no such mistake soon after, though. After Jamie Holmes was fouled on the left, Robert Briggs floated in a terrific free-kick which was glanced into the bottom corner by the head of Finnigan, Shields’ top scorer this season.
Brighouse almost levelled things up within a minute when Johnson got in behind, but Liam Connell beat away his effort with his legs.
That was a rare first half opportunity for the hosts, who went a further goal behind a minute into stoppage time, moments after Briggs had seen a shot from distance deflected wide.
The resulting corner saw Briggs curl in another impressive delivery which was this time headed beyond the defenders on the line by Storey as he netted for the second game in a row.
Brighouse had added attacking purpose at the start of the second half, and Rhys Jenkinson’s effort from the edge of the box stung the fingertips of Connell.
Shields looked like they could add a third goal at any moment, though, and almost did that after a sweeping counter-attack which saw Michael Richardson get in behind, and his chip just cleared the crossbar. He was also denied by a fine block less than a minute later.
Brighouse pulled a goal back in the 66th minute when Johnson controlled a cross from the left before firing low past Connell.
The home side enjoyed their best spell of the game as they put the Mariners under pressure in search of an equaliser.
The closest they came to levelling was after an impressive move on the right, with Connell doing well to parry an effort from Aaron Martin.
Their challenge was dealt a major blow with 16 minutes left, though, when defender Field was given a straight red card after a scramble in the area, with the officials ruling that he had denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity.
Smith’s central penalty found the net to restore Shields’ two-goal advantage and put them back into a commanding position.
Ten-man Brighouse could have pulled themselves back into it again soon after, but Smith proved to be their nemesis as he cleared a header from Callum Hall off the line.
The Mariners were well on top in the closing stages, with substitute Matty Pattison pulling the strings.
He played a major part in the final two goals. The first saw him clip a glorious pass beyond the defence for fellow substitute Nicholson, whose ball across the box was slid in by Armstrong as he netted his first goal for the club.
A flick from Pattison also got Smith in behind on the right soon after, and when he pulled it back to his team-mate, Pattison’s effort was destined to find the top corner. On its way in, it struck Nicholson and flew into the opposite corner as the points were wrapped up.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter (c), Lough, Storey, Morse, Briggs, Richardson (Pattison 76), Smith, Armstrong, Finnigan (Nicholson 63), Holmes. Subs not used: Norton, Callaghan, Stephenson.
Goals: Finnigan (23), Storey (45+2), Smith (pen 75), Armstrong (82), Nicholson (86).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.