South Shields 3 VS 1 Atherton Collieries
Robert Briggs starred again as South Shields beat Atherton Collieries 3-1 in a hard-fought EVO-STIK North encounter.
Four days on from scoring twice against Farsley Celtic to help the Mariners to a thrilling 4-3 Buildbase FA Trophy win, Briggs scored another brace at Mariners Park.
Both were sublime finishes from long range, either side of a Glenn Matthews equaliser for the visitors.
Shields had to wait until second half stoppage time to wrap up the points and ensure they stayed level with Bamber Bridge at the top of the table, with Jamie Holmes picking out the bottom corner from a Briggs free-kick.
The Mariners now have a week to prepare for the trip to Stafford Rangers in the second qualifying round of the FA Trophy.
They went into the Atherton game without a number of key players, including Julio Arca, Jon Shaw and Matty Pattison.
It did not prove to be a vintage performance from Shields, who had their first sight of goal in the 11th minute when captain Barrie Smith brought the ball in from the left before shooting not far wide.
Michael Richardson had a number of efforts in the first half as the Mariners looked to break the deadlock.
The first came on 21 minutes when Carl Finnigan got in behind on the inside-right of the box, and when Richardson met his cut-back, his shot was deflected against the post.
Darren Lough saw a 25-yard drive parried by Colls goalkeeper Adam Reid, who was beaten nine minutes before half-time when Richardson pulled an effort across goal, only to see it go narrowly past the post.
The Mariners were building some good pressure leading up to the interval, and went close again when a superb through ball from Smith found Finnigan, but Reid did well to close the angle and make the save.
He was powerless to prevent Shields opening the scoring on 43 minutes, though.
The home side kept the ball well and moved it from side to side before it was played back to Briggs 25 yards out. There appeared to be little on, but he took a touch and then buried a stunning effort via the crossbar, later insisting that it was definitely a shot rather than a cross.
Shields could have extended their lead before the break, but Cogdon was just unable to get on the end of a loose ball before Reid, while Richardson narrowly failed to convert a right-wing cross by Alex Nicholson.
Just 20 seconds into the second half, Finnigan went close to adding the Mariners' second when he turned and fired in a shot from just inside the box, but Reid was equal to his effort.
Atherton countered and caught Shields unawares, with the hosts unable to clear their lines. Half-time substitute Glenn Matthews pounced and directed a low effort beyond Liam Connell and into the bottom corner to equalise.
The Colls now had their tails up, and the dangerous Darrhyl Mason could have put them ahead when he dribbled into a shooting position and then curled a shot a few yards wide.
The away side were now showing much more attacking intent than they had in the first half, and they went close again when Mason got in behind on the left of the box, and his shot was well saved by Connell.
Shields needed something to settle their nerves, and got just that as the game ticked towards the hour mark.
Cogdon was fouled 25 yards out and Briggs curled home an outstanding free-kick, giving Reid no chance.
The Mariners had a golden opportunity to just about put the game to bed when Cogdon got to a ball ahead of Reid and, when bearing down on goal, had his ankles clipped, with referee Helen Conley pointing to the spot.
However, Finnigan was unable to continue his perfect penalty record with Shields as Reid got a strong hand to his spot-kick and the Colls got the ball clear.
Shields had other chances to seal the points, but Reid again kept Atherton in the game when he denied substitute Andrew Stephenson, who had been played in by Cogdon.
Lough was another player frustrated by Reid as he led a strong counter-attack, with his eventual effort pushed wide by the goalkeeper.
As the game went into the final 10 minutes, the visitors committed more men forward, and they were almost rewarded when Ben Hardcastle found himself in some space on the inside-right of the box, but Connell made a brilliant save with his foot to deny him.
It was not until three minutes into stoppage time that Shields could breathe more easily. Briggs floated in a free-kick from 30 yards and Reid parried from Finnigan, who retrieved the ball and laid it off for substitute Holmes, who stroked it into the bottom corner.
The Colls were still determined not to go down without a fight, and had time to go agonisingly close to scoring their second of the game when Hardcastle's effort from the edge of the box curled inches past the post.
The Lancashire-based side had really made Shields work for the three points, but the home side got there in the end to send the crowd of almost 1,800 home happy.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Nicholson, Callaghan (Stephenson 44), Lough, Morse, Storey, Smith (c) (Holmes 59), Briggs, Cogdon (Sullivan 82), Richardson, Finnigan. Subs not used: Norton, Baxter.
Goals: Briggs (43, 58), Holmes (90+3).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.