South Shields stretched their lead at the top of the table to four points as they got the better of Ramsbottom United in a tough encounter on Saturday.
The Mariners won 3-2 in Lancashire in a match which became nervy in the latter stages as they moved onto the 40-point mark after 15 games.
Ramsbottom twice halved a two-goal deficit in the second half, but strikes from Louis Storey, Jamie Holmes and Carl Finnigan proved to be enough for Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side.
Shields were missing several first-team regulars, with the likes of Julio Arca, Anthony Callaghan, Darren Lough, Michael Richardson and Gavin Cogdon unavailable.
Striker Graeme Armstrong started just a day after completing a move to the club from Spennymoor Town, and he battled well as he helped his new team to maximum points.
The Mariners started strongly, and their first sights of goal saw Robert Briggs twice denied by blocks.
He was to play a key role in the opener, which arrived in the 14th minute, as his free-kick from the left was nodded towards goal by Dillon Morse and prodded in from close range by Storey.
Ramsbottom struggled to make an impact at the top end of the pitch in the early stages, but Philip Dean tested Liam Connell with a low effort from the edge of the box which took an awkward bounce.
It was a testing playing surface for both teams to cope with, but the Mariners rolled up their sleeves to take control.
They went close to doubling their advantage just after the half-hour mark after some superb play by Holmes as he dribbled past a number of players before the ball was worked to Andrew Stephenson, who struck the foot of the post with a shot across goal.
The hosts could have equalised shortly afterwards as they countered from a Shields corner.
Connell was beaten in a foot race with Dean on the left and was left stranded, but the Ramsbottom midfielder’s pass across the box was well cut out by makeshift left-back Matty Pattison.
Outfield player Ben Richardson was forced to go in goal for the home side late in the first half when goalkeeper Danny Taberner was forced off with an injury.
He performed well, but was beaten by an Armstrong header which went past the post in the 43rd minute.
Shields’ second goal arrived seven minutes into the second half when Briggs picked out Stephenson on the right and his excellent delivery was chested down by Holmes, who then hit an effort which struck defender Jacques Kpohomouh before finding the net.
Holmes had an excellent game and almost scored again when he smashed an effort towards a sea of bodies which Richardson managed to push to safety.
Ramsbottom were given a route back into the game when an impressive cross from the left was headed in by substitute Sam Heathcoate in the 64th minute.
But it took just nine minutes for Shields’ two-goal advantage to be restored as Briggs played a superb ball to Finnigan, who got it out of his feet before beating Richardson with a calm finish.
Holmes continued to be a thorn in the hosts’ side, and could have made it four when he beat two defenders with some great skill and fired just over.
Heathcoate again gave Ramsbottom a lifeline when he was found by a defence-splitting pass and then hit a first-time finish to beat Connell.
Despite some nervy moments in the Shields penalty area, though, Connell would not be beaten again as an important three points were claimed by the Mariners.
They are next in action on Saturday, with Tadcaster Albion the visitors to Mariners Park for another league game.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Pattison, Shaw (c), Morse, Storey, Stephenson (Scott 65), Briggs, Armstrong (Sullivan 79), Finnigan, Holmes. Subs not used: Norton, Smith, Guy.
Goals: Storey (14), Holmes (52), Finnigan (73).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.