South Shields 3 VS 0 Radcliffe
An inexperienced yet vibrant South Shields side put in-form Radcliffe to the sword as they ensured they would be top on Christmas Day with an impressive 3-0 win at Mariners Park.
Injuries and suspensions to a host of key players led to opportunities for several youngsters, all of whom grasped them with both hands.
Will Jenkins will take the headlines after he opened the scoring with a stunning lob from distance just after the half-hour mark but equally impressive displays from the likes of Ross Coombe, Kieran Charlton, Arron Thompson and Sam Hodgson caught the eye.
They were joined by a small collection of experienced players who performed admirably, with vice-captain Robert Briggs netting twice from the penalty spot to seal the home side’s win.
Radcliffe would have moved to within a point of Shields had they won and came to Mariners Park on a tremendous run of form.
They had an early opportunity to open the scoring when Anton Forrester fired a ball across from the left and Ben Wharton headed it over after having little time to react.
The Mariners gradually became more threatening and their first chance fell to Hodgson, whose effort from the edge of the area went over.
Briggs drilled wide from the edge of the box as Shields’ bright play continued, but they needed a superb stop from Coombe to stay on level terms in the 14th minute as he brilliantly tipped a Tyrese Sinclair free-kick onto the post.
Shields almost took the lead when Craig Baxter headed the ball across the box and Radcliffe goalkeeper Ollie Martin got a hand to it but sent it goalwards, where Tyrell Warren was forced to head off the line.
The game was brought to life in the 32nd minute when Jenkins opened the scoring in stunning fashion.
He concluded a move which involved three Shields academy players as Charlton linked up with Hodgson before sending a terrific pass into the feet of Jenkins, who glided forward before beating Martin with a tremendous lob from 25 yards out on the left flank.
The hosts had good momentum at that stage and almost doubled their advantage as Jenkins flicked the ball to Jason Gilchrist and he fired narrowly wide from the right of the area.
Shields’ performance after half-time was impressively mature as they controlled proceedings and were rewarded with two further goals.
The first came seven minutes into the second half as Gilchrist was tripped by Martin, who was shown a yellow card for bringing down the frontman. Rick Smith was also booked for his protestations.
Briggs made no mistake from the spot as he squeezed his penalty into Martin’s left-hand corner, despite the goalkeeper getting a hand to his effort.
Blocks by Phil Turnbull and Dillon Morse kept Shields two goals ahead before they were given a golden opportunity for a third when Smith handled a Gilchrist shot and was shown a second yellow card as Radcliffe were reduced to 10 men.
Briggs picked out the same corner of the net to double his tally for the afternoon and all but seal the Mariners’ victory.
Hodgson went close to getting in on the act 15 minutes before the end when he fired not far wide from the right of the box, while at the other end Coombe saved well from Javid Swaby-Neavin and Wharton.
It was an impressive and important victory for Shields as they maintained their place at the top of the table heading into Christmas.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Coombe, Baxter, Charlton, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull (Alli 77), Thompson (Thurston 42), Briggs, Gilchrist (Guy 71), Jenkins, Hodgson. Subs not used: Errington, Wokoma.
Goals: Jenkins (32), Briggs (pens 52 and 70).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.