An early header from Graeme Armstrong secured an important three points for South Shields as they battled to a 1-0 win at Clitheroe.
Armstrong nodded in his fourth goal for the Mariners just four minutes into the contest at Shawbridge as the away side started strongly.
Clitheroe – who were sixth in the Evo-Stik North Division heading into the match – fought well, particularly in the second half, but were unable to find an equaliser.
The victory saw Shields maintain their three-point advantage over Hyde United – who they travel to on Tuesday – at the top of the table.
The early stages seemed to suggest it could prove to be a comfortable afternoon for the Mariners, who were without the likes of Carl Finnigan, Gavin Cogdon, Matty Pattison, Michael Richardson, Anthony Callaghan and Jamie Holmes.
Armstrong headed an early chance wide, but would not miss the target when presented with a second opportunity.
Craig Baxter worked well down the right and his initial ball in was headed out to Aksel Juul on the right.
Juul swung in an inch-perfect cross which was met with a diving header by Armstrong in the six-yard box as he netted for the third time in four league games.
Lee Mason – making his debut for the Mariners, 24 hours after joining from rivals North Shields – had a chance to make it two, but goalkeeper Chris Thompson kept out his low effort.
Shields had to be alert at the other end, and goalkeeper Liam Connell made a tremendous save to keep them ahead in the 16th minute.
Caldon Henson drove a shot from 25 yards which took a deflection and was destined for the top corner before Connell brilliantly clawed it away.
Robert Briggs almost made Shields’ lead more comfortable when a superb hit from the edge of the box just cleared the crossbar.
Clitheroe, who have shown good form in recent months, responded well, and put their visitors under pressure at various points in the game.
Captain Danny Brady will have felt he should have levelled before the half-hour mark when he headed over from a George Hughes cross.
Another close shave for the Mariners came when they failed to clear from a corner and an Ian Rowlands header looped in the air before being punched from the goal-line by Connell.
Clitheroe’s doggedness was impressive and they continued that into the second half.
Dimitri Tuanzebe screwed an effort wide early in the half in what was the hosts’ most presentable opportunity.
Shields were mainly restricted to half-chances at the other end, with the lively Juul at the heart of much of their best play as he was twice denied by blocks.
In the closing stages, Clitheroe put the Mariners under more pressure with a series of corners and free-kicks.
Connell did well to deny Jacob Gregory at his near post, while excellent clearances by Dillon Morse and Darren Lough in stoppage time ensured the home side did not have the opportunity to snatch a point.
Shields saw it out to claim another important victory ahead of Tuesday’s trip to second-placed Hyde.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Nicholson (Smith 78), Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Storey, Briggs, Armstrong (Devlin 90+3), Mason (Lough 61), Juul. Subs not used: Woolston, Guy.
Goal: Armstrong (4).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.