South Shields 2 VS 1 Stalybridge Celtic
Robert Briggs struck an ice-cool stoppage time winner from the penalty spot as South Shields made it eight league victories in a row against Stalybridge Celtic at Mariners Park.
Briggs’ nerveless spot-kick settled a feisty encounter which had seen Celtic sternly test the credentials of their hosts.
Shields deservedly took the lead 10 minutes before half-time when David Foley’s deflected effort found the net, and they appeared well set to push on in the second half and press their advantage home.
Stalybridge fought back, though, and they were the team with the momentum when Chris Smalley fired them level 15 minutes from the end.
The Mariners showed tremendous resolve in the closing stages and when Nathan Lowe was fouled in the area, few were expecting Briggs to do anything but find the net.
He did just that to stretch Shields’ lead at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division to 10 points ahead of Saturday’s trip to Witton Albion.
The Mariners were unchanged from their 3-0 win over Atherton Collieries three days earlier, with Lee Mason and Josh Gillies continuing to miss out with illness and a stomach strain respectively.
They picked up where they left off in that match by keeping possession well in the early stages and threatening the visiting backline.
Blair Adams was the first to test Stalybridge’s on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Fojticek with a fizzing volley from the left of the area which the Slovakian did well to hold.
Although Shields were on top, they almost fell behind in the 18th minute as Jonathan Ustabasi nipped in behind on the left of the box and directed the ball across Myles Boney, who stretched out a leg to make an impressive save before Gary Brown and Phil Turnbull calmly cleared the danger.
The Mariners played some of their best football of the season to date in the first half and were rewarded 10 minutes before half-time.
Brown slid in to win the ball in the middle and it broke to Adams on the left. He swung in a superb cross which was met first time at the back post by Foley, whose shot took a big deflection before leaving Fojticek with no chance as the frontman notched his third goal in two matches.
The hosts’ lead was almost doubled three minutes before the interval when Jordan Hunter jinked past his man on the right of the box before thrashing an effort which cannoned against the far post.
The second half proved to be a more difficult affair for Shields as Stalybridge asserted themselves more on proceedings and provided a real threat.
A first warning came when Adams was forced to block brilliantly from Scott Bakkor, and frustration grew among the Mariners’ ranks as they were unable to rediscover their flowing football.
A two-minute burst of pressure from Shields just after the hour mark did threaten to put the game to bed, though.
Their first opportunity came as they patiently worked the ball from right to left and Foley was played in on goal, but Fojticek narrowed the angle quickly and made a good save.
The Mariners were then left scratching their heads as to how they were not two up as Sanmi Odelusi turned in the area and fired a low shot which hit the hand of Fojticek but was destined to find the net before a superb goal-line clearance saved the day for Stalybridge.
Almost immediately they went close to levelling as they broke down the other end and Darius Osei got in behind on the left before forcing Boney into a smart stop at his near post.
The match developed into a tetchy, tight battle and Stalybridge began to pressure their hosts before equalising from a corner.
With 15 minutes remaining, Declan Walker swung the ball in from the right and after Shields initially failed to clear it fell the way of Smalley, who struck it low and hard into the bottom corner.
The Mariners needed to respond and did so. They looked set to go back in front when substitute Jon Shaw was played through on the left of the box, but he dragged his effort wide.
At the other end, Ustabasi almost had a big opportunity to win it when a free-kick from the left dropped to his feet in front of goal, but he was unable to react quickly enough and the ball bounced off him and out for a goal kick.
The key moment came a minute into stoppage time when Shields got in down the right and Lowe was fouled in the area.
After a significant delay, Briggs stepped up to send Fojticek the wrong way from the spot and ensure the Mariners would celebrate another victory.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Adams, Turnbull, Morse, Brown, Thurston (Baxter 81), Lowe, Odelusi (Shaw 65), Briggs (c), Foley (Gilchrist 65). Subs not used: Charlton, Wokoma.
Goals: Foley (35), Briggs (pen 90+1).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.