South Shields made it nine wins out of 10 in EVO-STIK League North – but left it late to beat the league’s bottom side Goole.
The Mariners looked to be heading for a frustrating goalless goal as they struggled to find the breakthrough against a resolute Goole side at Mariners Park.
However, substitutes Gavin Cogdon and Julio Arca struck in the last four minutes for Shields as they made it a remarkable 50 wins from their last 52 games.
The Mariners had enjoyed a stunning 3-2 victory over York City in the Emirates FA Cup three days earlier, and after their huge exertions in that game, joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton made seven changes to their starting line-up.
One of those brought in, Michael Richardson, went agonisingly close to opening the scoring after just eight minutes with an audacious chip from just outside the box. Goalkeeper Ben Saynor somehow clawed it onto the bar, and Jamie Holmes put the rebound wide under pressure.
Richardson had another chance less than a minute later when he was found by a superb Andrew Stephenson pass, but again he was unable to beat Saynor, this time with a low effort.
Saynor was in impressive form, and Matty Pattison was the next Shields player he denied as he palmed his piledriver over the bar.
Craig Baxter – the Mariners’ captain for the night – got in behind after a flowing move just after the half-hour mark, but again Saynor would not be beaten.
The ball finally did find a way past him in the 36th minute as Shields launched a swift counter, and the eventual shot from Pattison somehow came back off the post. The hosts kept the ball alive, but Saynor saved Luke Sullivan’s header.
Shields tried to gather momentum in the early stages of the second half, but Goole stuck to their task and continued to frustrate their hosts.
Pattison hit the post for a second time with a dipping effort from outside the area, with the Richardson follow-up going not far wide.
Half-chances came and went, but the longer the game went on, the more likely it became that Goole would escape with a point.
Pattison was Shields’ biggest threat for much of the encounter, and his latest effort from 20 yards bounced inches wide of Saynor’s post.
As the second half progressed, the Mariners introduced Cogdon, Arca and Robert Briggs from the bench as they searched for a winner.
Cogdon had a number of half-opportunities, but Goole almost opened the scoring when a stunning effort from distance by Piteu Crouz arrowed towards the bottom corner before being brilliantly tipped wide by the hand of Liam Connell.
The breakthrough finally arrived for Shields in the 86th minute. Briggs utilised some space in midfield and sent a glorious ball through for Cogdon, who beat Saynor to it with his searing pace before keeping his cool to finish.
It was another late show for Cogdon, who three days earlier had scored the dramatic stoppage time winner against York.
There was no way back for Goole, who had put in a spirited display and defended well before being undone at the end.
When Macaulay Parkinson handled in the area in stoppage time, he was given his marching orders, and Arca stepped up to roll home the penalty and seal the Mariners’ three points.
They had to be patient, and it was tough going at times, but they got the result they needed.
Shields now prepare for a tough FA Trophy trip to Scarborough Athletic on Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter (c), Callaghan, Lough, Morse, Storey (Arca 68), Stephenson (Briggs 78), Pattison, Sullivan (Cogdon 62), Richardson, Holmes. Subs not used: Norton, Smith.
Goals: Cogdon (86), Arca (pen 90+3).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.