David Foley scored four goals in a game for the second time this season as he helped South Shields to a convincing 6-2 win at Washington.
The Mariners made it eight victories in a row – and 16 from their last 17 games – thanks to Foley’s strikes, as well as goals from Carl Finnigan and Michael Richardson.
The result kept Shields second in Northern League Division One, five points behind leaders North Shields with a game in hand.
They were all over Washington from almost the first whistle, with their first chance coming in the fourth minute, when Robert Briggs’ free-kick from the left took a touch off Foley and was well gathered by home goalkeeper Daniel Gladstone.
Shields had to wait just four more minutes to take the lead, though, and debutant Alex Nicholson – who was handed a start at right-back – was at the heart of it.
After collecting the ball on the right, he exchanged give-and-goes with Michael Richardson and Foley as he drove from the right to the left, and after making his way into the box, his cross was palmed by Gladstone into the path of Foley, who tapped home.
Foley was a constant danger to the home defence, and almost added goal number two when he was found on the right flank by a superb Julio Arca pass over the top. Foley ran at his defender before cutting inside and seeing an effort deflected into the side netting.
Washington were struggling to cope with relentless Mariners attacks, and they found themselves two goals behind when Foley again collected the ball on the inside-right of the box. This time he delivered an inch-perfect cross onto the head of Finnigan, who nodded into the bottom corner.
The hosts were mainly restricted to shots from distance, with Matty Waters twice hitting efforts over.
Their best opportunity of the first half fell to Gary Shaw, but he could only skew over from close range after being found by an impressive cross from left-back Paul Weldon.
At the other end, Gladstone was quick off his line to deny Shields on a number of occasions, one of which was when Nicholson played a superb through ball for Foley, who just could not nudge it beyond the goalkeeper.
Gladstone could do nothing to prevent the Mariners going three goals up in first half stoppage time, when Wayne Phillips played the ball into the feet of Richardson, who dribbled to the edge of the box before rifling it into the bottom corner.
Shields almost added another before the break when Foley was played in on the inside-left of the box, but after outpacing the defence, he sent his shot across goal narrowly wide.
Chances were harder to come by in the early stages of the second half, although one moment of excitement came when Arca released Foley down the left and he again outstripped the defence before cutting inside and seeing his shot held by Gladstone.
On 56 minutes, Gateshead loanee Adam Wrightson was introduced by Shields in what was the last game of his one-month loan spell. Again, he stood out.
Waters had another half-chance for Washington, but sent a half-volley just wide from 20 yards.
The main of the action was at the other end, though, and Briggs almost added another free-kick to his collection, only to curl it just over from 20 yards.
Jon Shaw was frustrated as he nodded past the post from a Richardson corner, but the fourth goal finally came with 16 minutes left when Wrightson motored down the right and then fired a ball across the box which was parried by Gladstone to Foley, who rifled it in via the crossbar for Shields’ 100th goal of the season in all competitions.
Mariners goalkeeper Liam Connell was called into action for the first time soon after, as he kept out a header by Waters.
Foley was in determined mood to grab a hat-trick at the other end, and he almost had it when he chipped just over from distance, with Gladstone well beaten.
He didn’t have to wait too much longer for his third, though, which came when a Connell goal kick beat the Washington defence. Foley got to the ball before Gladstone, flicked it past him and stroked into an empty net.
The home side pulled one goal back with four minutes remaining as Shields gave the ball away at the back, and Charlie Raby punished them by driving into the bottom corner.
Foley looked like he would have the final say soon after when he scored arguably the pick of the bunch, collecting an Anthony Callaghan throw-in just outside the box on the left before firing past Gladstone with a rasping shot.
However, the goalscoring was not done there, with the Mariners again losing possession in a dangerous area before Waters sent an impressive shot past Connell.
Shields thought they had added their seventh goal of the game in stoppage time, but Richardson’s celebrations were short-lived after he was ruled to have been offside when he turned the ball home following Gladstone’s parry from Wrightson.
It was an entertaining end to an exciting game, and the Mariners now are not in action again until Boxing Day, when they take on Penrith at Mariners Park in a 2pm kick-off.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Nicholson (Holden 71), Callaghan, Shaw, Baxter, Arca (c) (Smith 65), Briggs, Phillips, Finnigan (Wrightson 56), Richardson, Foley. Subs not used: Morse, Scroggins.
Goals: Foley (8, 74, 81, 88), Finnigan (14), Richardson (45+1).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.