South Shields 4 VS 0 Marske United
Promoted South Shields strengthened their grip on top spot in Northern League Division One with a convincing win over Marske United.
Carl Finnigan scored a hat-trick as Shields moved beyond the 100-point mark with a 4-0 victory at Mariners Park.
Gavin Cogdon was also on the scoresheet in the Mariners' 32nd victory in a row, which moved them three points clear of North Shields at the top of the table.
They could now clinch the title as early as Saturday, depending on the result of North Shields' match with Morpeth Town on Wednesday.
Promotion to the Evo-Stik League was secured for the Mariners on Saturday, when they won 1-0 at North Shields.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton made seven changes to the team which started that match, as they took on a fifth-placed Marske side who were expected to provide one of their toughest remaining challenges in the league.
Both sides had their good spells in the first half, with Marske going toe-to-toe with the Mariners.
The better opportunities fell the way of the home side, and Finnigan went close in the 11th minute when his strike from distance kept low and did not go far past the post.
Jon Shaw hit one into the side netting from the outside-right of the area, while David Foley went close when his cross deceived Marske goalkeeper Robert Dean and came back off the post.
Shields were playing with the wind at their backs, and went even closer just after the half-hour mark when a floated free-kick by Andrew Stephenson flicked off Finnigan and was hacked off the line.
Marske, though, almost took the lead when a clipped ball into the area fell the way of Andrew Ramsbottom, and with Shields defenders throwing their bodies in front of the ball, in the end it was goalkeeper Pete Jameson who saved the day with his foot.
Soon after, Peter Bulmer curled over after playing his way into some space in the box, and Marske looked set to make it a tricky evening for the hosts.
However, the Mariners responded strongly, and broke the deadlock in the 35th minute.
The impressive Alex Nicholson drilled in a delivery from the right which was nodded towards the bottom corner by Stephenson, and when Dean pushed it out, Finnigan was there to force it home for his 25th goal of the season.
At the other end, Danny Earl hit one narrowly wide from distance as the away side went in at the break behind in front of a tremendous crowd of 1,490.
Shields put in an excellent performance after the break to put Marske to the sword.
Finnigan went close within 20 seconds of the restart when Dean kept out his snap-shot, while Foley flashed an effort narrowly wide from just outside the box soon after.
Stephenson fired a decent chance over before Foley was presented with an even better opportunity when he was played in on goal, only for Dean to again make the save.
He was powerless to prevent Finnigan from eventually grabbing goal number two shortly before the hour mark, though.
Louis Storey drove forward in midfield and slotted the ball through to Foley, who ran at the defence and played it to Finnigan, and he made no mistake.
Jordan Blinco was another constant threat to the Marske defence, and he almost added his name to the scoresheet after being found by Storey not long after the restart, but his effort went wide.
Marske opportunities in the second half were rare, and their best spell saw shots from Craig Gott and Adam Wheatley go over and wide.
Shields turned on the style the longer the game went on, and had a number of good chances for the third goal.
A fine block denied Blinco, while Finnigan smashed an effort over the bar.
More excellent work from Blinco saw him beat his man on the left, bring the ball inside and then fire a shot which beat Dean, but also went past the post.
After more good possession and play, the hosts finally got their rewards in the closing stages.
The next goal came when Blinco got in on the right of the box and delivered a cross which was half-cleared to substitute Gavin Cogdon, whose controlled volley nestled in the bottom corner.
Barrie Smith and Cogdon went close before Finnigan completed his hat-trick a minute before the end.
It arrived when Stephenson's effort from the edge of the box was parried by Dean, and Finnigan took a touch to get the ball out of his feet before finishing calmly.
It had ended up being a near-perfect night for the Mariners as they moved onto 101 points, with three league games left to play.
They could now win the title against Morpeth on Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Jameson, Nicholson (Baxter 83), Callaghan, Storey (Arca 60), Shaw (c), Lough, Smith, Stephenson, Blinco, Finnigan, Foley (Cogdon 73). Subs not used: Petrache, Phillips.
Goals: Finnigan (35, 58, 89), Cogdon (81).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.