Ryhope CW 1 VS 2 South Shields
A stunning strike from Andrew Stephenson sealed three vital points for South Shields as they battled to a 2-1 win at Ryhope CW.
Stephenson scored the winner 19 minutes before the end as the Mariners closed the gap at the top of Northern League Division One to 14 points.
The sides had been level after Josh Home-Jackson cancelled out an early Carl Finnigan penalty with a superb hit from distance for the hosts.
The victory made it 26 in a row for Shields, extending the club record for consecutive wins.
They started brightly at Ryhope, and almost took the lead within the first minute when Alex Nicholson clipped a superb ball over the top which Finnigan drilled not far past the post.
David Foley and Finnigan also had efforts saved by home goalkeeper Antony Lowerson, but he was unable to keep the scores level for long.
Finnigan was fouled in the area in the 11th minute, and stepped up himself to send Lowerson the wrong way from the penalty spot and score his 24th goal of the season.
Shields were well on top, and looking likely to extend their advantage.
Lowerson thwarted Finnigan with a good low save, while Gavin Cogdon volleyed over as two chances came and went within a matter of seconds.
Ryhope battled their way back into the game well, and enjoyed a decent five-minute spell before drawing level.
Home-Jackson struck a superb effort from 25 yards into the top corner, giving debutant Pete Jameson no chance in the Shields goal.
Although the home side had no clear-cut chances to claim the lead, they did cause the Mariners problems and the game became more even.
Robert Briggs went close to restoring the Shields advantage two minutes before half-time, but Lowerson did well to push his free-kick around the post.
Jon Shaw was introduced from the bench at half-time by Lee Picton and Graham Fenton, with Louis Storey pushed into midfield and Briggs brought off.
Within five minutes of coming on, Shaw struck the woodwork as he headed against the post after meeting a Stephenson corner at the near post.
Cogdon also almost put Shields ahead when he picked up the ball on the outside-right of the box before flashing an effort just over.
The pressure from the visitors was cranked up the longer the second half went on, but the Mariners were just unable to get the vital breakthrough.
A great run down the left by Cogdon ended when Lowerson denied him with a low save, while Anthony Callaghan also had an attempt kept out by the goalkeeper and Finnigan had an effort deflected narrowly wide.
Cogdon looked certain to make it 2-1 when a mistake at the back from Ryhope let him in on goal, but he hit his shot against the post as it began to look like it might be one of those days for Shields.
In fact, they almost went behind when James Ellis cut in from the left for the hosts, but Jameson made a good save with his foot on the only occasion he was seriously called upon in the second half.
The Mariners finally found their breakthrough in the 71st minute with another goal of the season contender.
A ball from halfway was headed out as far as Stephenson, who chested it down 25 yards from goal. He then drove a fantastic effort over Lowerson and into the net to delight the large travelling support.
Cogdon, Foley and captain Barrie Smith all had good opportunities to make the points safe, but were unable to beat Lowerson.
Ryhope were unable to carve out a decent opportunity of their own, despite some nervous moments for Shields in the closing stages when they were forced to defend set-pieces.
Elsewhere, Shildon defeated league leaders North Shields 2-0, meaning the Mariners cut the gap at the top to 14 points, while they have five games in hand.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Jameson, Nicholson, Callaghan, Briggs (Shaw 46), Morse, Storey, Smith (c), Stephenson, Cogdon, Finnigan (Baxter 84), Foley. Subs not used: Connell, Holden, Ramsey.
Goals: Finnigan (pen 12), Stephenson (71).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.