A brilliant brace from Jon Shaw sealed an important victory for South Shields as they got the better of a spirited Dunston UTS side at Mariners Park on Saturday.
After Carl Finnigan’s first half header had given the Mariners the lead, Dunston struck an equaliser against the run of play just four minutes into the second half.
However, after a tactical switch which saw Shaw moved from centre-back to up-front, Shields battled to the three points in the closing stages as he twice headed in to hand his side a 3-1 win.
The result kept the Mariners second in Northern League Division One, eight points behind North Shields with two games in hand.
They started the game excellently, with Andrew Stephenson seeing an early shot clip the crossbar and David Foley cutting an effort wide after seeing an initial attempt blocked.
Finnigan grabbed the opener on 11 minutes as he ran across his man and met a terrific Julio Arca corner at the near post to head home.
It was almost two soon after when some good play on the left from Shields bore fruit, with Anthony Callaghan’s cross finding a stretching Adam Wrightson, who hit the post.
The Mariners maintained control for the remainder of the first half, but clear-cut opportunities were hard to come by, and the closest they came to extending their lead was when a powerful strike from Stephenson was beaten away by goalkeeper Stefan Holden.
Stephenson was again a major threat to the visiting back-line within two minutes of the second half starting, as he first saw an effort blocked before scooping the rebound over after finding space in the box.
Dunston forays forward had been rare, but they scored in the 49th minute with their first shot on target.
They counter-attacked at real pace, with Scott Heslop sprinting down the right before delivering an inch-perfect pass into the box for Harvey Saunders, who finished superbly to give Liam Connell no chance.
Dunston grew in confidence and started to pose a threat, but Shields still looked the more likely to score, with Foley and Wrightson both hitting shots over, and Robert Briggs having one cleared off the line after a cross was fumbled.
A superb ball through the centre from Arca looked like it might produce a second goal for the Mariners, but Finnigan could only shoot over from the edge of the box.
Shields were almost stung again at the other end as another Dunston break led to Connell having to make a fantastic one-handed save down low, and the resulting corner was scrambled clear.
The pressure was almost exclusively on Dunston’s goal after that, with Arca sending the first warning sign as he fired narrowly over from the edge of the box.
With 18 minutes left, Dillon Morse replaced Finnigan, with Shaw moving up-front.
Within a minute of that, Shields were almost ahead again as the ever-lively Wrightson wriggled his way through from the right before seeing a good effort tipped over by Holden.
The resulting corner from Arca was on target, and Holden beat it away via a defender to substitute Wayne Phillips on the edge of the box. He sent a stunning shot arrowing towards goal, but it bounced back off the crossbar as the Mariners were frustrated again.
Shields did not have to wait too much longer for the breakthrough, though, and it came after an Arca corner was met by a Danny Carson header and half-cleared by the visitors.
Phillips worked the ball back to Carson, who by this time was outside the box on the left, and he sent in a teasing, looping delivery which Shaw directed brilliantly into the bottom corner with his head.
Five minutes later, Shaw wrapped up the points as Phillips – who made a brilliant impact from the bench – ran down the left and sent in a superb cross which was headed home.
Foley went close to making it four when his shot was deflected narrowly over, while Connell made another good save against his former club as he denied Saunders with his legs.
Phillips almost had the final say when good work from Briggs in the centre set him up with a presentable opportunity, but he could only fire over, while Foley had a shot saved by Holden as the margin of victory stayed at two.
Shields will hope to follow-up on their fourth consecutive win in all competitions when they travel to West Allotment Celtic on Wednesday for a 7.30pm kick-off. Coach travel to the game is available, costing £6 for those in the SSFC Members’ Club and £7 for non-members. It will depart Mariners Park at 6pm. To book, call 0191 454 7800.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Callaghan, Shaw, Carson, Arca (c), Briggs, Stephenson (Phillips 61), Wrightson (Smith 83), Finnigan (Morse 72), Foley. Subs not used: Holden, Ramsey.
Goals: Finnigan (12), Shaw (77, 82).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.