South Shields came from a goal behind as they swept to a 4-1 win over Clitheroe at Mariners Park.
The Mariners found things difficult in the first half, and fell behind early on as Alex Newby turned the ball home from a corner.
The hosts started to find their feet in the closing stages of the half, and got back on level terms when Gavin Cogdon fired in off the post.
The second half was almost one-way traffic as Shields went through the gears, with Craig Baxter putting them ahead within four minutes of the restart when his cross bounced in front of the goalkeeper and went in.
Carl Finnigan gave the Mariners some breathing space before Cogdon added Shields’ fourth and his second, touching the ball home after Jon Shaw had headed it across goal.
The result meant Shields maintained their position at the top of Evo-Stik North and set them up nicely for the mouthwatering Emirates FA Cup tie against York City next Saturday.
They went into the game without Julio Arca, who had picked up a knock in last Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup win at Darlington, Alex Nicholson and Darren Lough, though goalkeeper Liam Connell was fit enough to take his place on the bench.
It was Clitheroe who started the brighter, and they got their reward when a third minute corner from the right by Robbie Bromley was flicked on by Brad Carroll and then turned in by Newby in front of goal.
Shields struggled to get flowing in the early exchanges and could have fallen a further goal behind when Kurt Willoughby got through on the inside-left of the box, but Jack Norton beat his effort away.
Clitheroe looked set to double their lead before the quarter-hour mark when Norton’s kick went straight to the feet of Willoughby, but the Shields goalkeeper atoned for his error by keeping out his drilled shot with his legs.
The Mariners improved as the half progressed, and had a golden chance to get back on level terms when Cogdon chested the ball through to Finnigan, but his effort bounced agonisingly wide of the upright.
Although Shields had by now gained a stronger grip of the game, the visitors still possessed a threat, and demonstrated that again when Newby got a shot away on the right of the box, forcing Norton to push it wide.
Having surrendered possession on numerous occasions in the early part of the match, the Mariners became noticeably more confident on the ball, and played their way from back to front as they scored the equaliser seven minutes before half-time.
The final touches were added when Finnigan played it through to Cogdon, who drilled a shot from a tight angle which bounced in off the post.
Jamie Holmes was another constant threat to the Clitheroe backline, and within two minutes of Shields’ leveller, he almost put them in front when he hit one wide from the edge of the box.
The Mariners had another opportunity to go ahead just before the break when Holmes was fouled on the edge of the box, and Robert Briggs’ free-kick was pushed away by Chris Thompson.
Less than four minutes into the second half, the home side were ahead for the first time.
The impressive Barrie Smith ran at the defence before laying it off for Baxter on the right, who came inside onto his left foot and sent in a teasing cross which deceived defender Ryan Ellison and goalkeeper Thompson as they left it to each other. The ball bounced between them before nestling in the goal.
Clitheroe responded well and went close to getting back on level terms almost immediately when Carroll’s effort from 20 yards fizzed not far past the post.
The Mariners made their lead more comfortable soon after with a very well-worked goal. Briggs, Smith and Matty Pattison played the ball between them in a triangle to free Pattison into some space, and he used that to tease a pass beyond the away defence for Finnigan, who rolled it low into the net.
Shields were by now dominant in possession, and had a number of half-chances before going further ahead.
A Briggs corner from the left found the head of Shaw at the front post, and his effort across goal was turned in by Cogdon from close range as he netted his second of the afternoon.
That made the points safe, and it was then merely a matter of how many goals the Mariners would win by.
They were unable to seriously test Thompson in the remainder of the game, though, and it was in fact Norton who had to be on his guard as he saved from Newby twice, as well as substitute Oliver Crankshaw.
It was a confident second half showing, in particular, from the Mariners, as they stayed two points clear at the top of Evo-Stik North ahead of their break from league action next Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Norton, Baxter, Callaghan, Shaw (c), Morse, Briggs (Storey 77), Smith, Pattison (Stephenson 62), Cogdon, Finnigan (Richardson 77), Holmes. Subs not used: Connell, Sullivan.
Goals: Cogdon (38, 67), Baxter (48), Finnigan (56).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.