South Shields 1-0 Bamber Bridge: Briggs free-kick sends hosts top
South Shields went to the top of the early EVO-STIK North table as a Robert Briggs free-kick maintained their 100% start to the season.
The Mariners were given a stern test by a dogged Bamber Bridge side, but ultimately claimed a deserved 1-0 victory at Mariners Park.
Briggs’ effort five minutes before half-time proved decisive, and came after Gavin Cogdon had seen a penalty saved.
The win saw Shields leapfrog Bamber Bridge into top spot, ahead of a clash with new second-placed side Scarborough Athletic on Monday.
Bamber Bridge came with a clear gameplan to frustrate the Mariners, and carried it out well in front of a crowd of more than 1,500.
They kept their shape well and proved difficult to break down, with often 10 men behind the ball as they looked to silence the home support.
The Mariners unlocked them in the 18th minute when a through ball sent Jamie Holmes in on goal, but he was bundled over by Matthew Mahoney. The referee pointed to the spot and gave Mahoney a yellow card.
Cogdon stepped up to take the penalty, but Lloyd Rigby dived the correct way and kept out the low spot-kick to maintain parity.
Shields struggled to break through again until the closing stages of the first half.
They enjoyed much good possession, particularly in deep areas, but Bamber Bridge held firm and looked likely to get through to half-time with the scores still level.
That all changed when Briggs lined up a free-kick from 20 yards out in the 40th minute.
His curled effort appeared to go through the wall before kissing the post and nestling in the corner of the net to settle any home nerves.
Bamber Bridge had a half-chance to level before half-time, but Alistair Waddecar sliced a shot wide.
The away team stuck resolutely to their gameplan in the second half, and despite some passages of play where the Mariners dominated the ball, they were again unable to pick a way through.
The closest they came was just 25 seconds into the second half when Cogdon broke through on the inside-right of the box, but his effort across goal cannoned off the outside of the post and went wide.
Michael Richardson had a goal ruled out for offside after Alex Nicholson’s shot was blocked, while Holmes was given a booking amid strong Shields penalty appeals as the referee ruled he had gone over too easily.
Chances were slightly easier to come by in the second half, but Brig were also dangerous on the break.
Substitute Daniel Mooney, in particular, proved to be a threat, and one of his crosses from the right just evaded a touch that would surely have diverted it home.
He missed their best chance of the half on 69 minutes when he connected with a cross from the left at the back post, but could only head over.
Shields could have all but wrapped it up almost immediately after as some good play by Cogdon set up an opportunity for Nicholson just inside the area, but he cracked an effort against the crossbar as the visitors survived.
That allowed them to have a real push in the closing stages as they committed more men forward in search of a point.
Mooney was again the dangerman, and Liam Connell did well to hold an effort from distance by the substitute, before later saving a similar effort from Chris Marlow.
Shields were now struggling to maintain possession, having dominated the ball for most of the game.
However, they got through their difficult period and had another chance to seal the three points in the closing stages, only for Matty Pattison to blaze over after good work from substitute Darren Lough.
One final opportunity fell the way of the away team in stoppage time, but Waddecar’s effort from inside the box struck a team-mate and went over.
It was a hard-fought victory for the Mariners against an impressive and resilient team as they maintained their remarkable run of results, which now stretches back to last November.
Shields have now won 41 of their last 42 games in all competitions, drawing the other one after conceding a last-minute equaliser.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Callaghan (Lough 74), Shaw (c), Morse, Briggs, Nicholson (Smith 86), Pattison, Cogdon, Richardson (Arca 63), Holmes. Subs not used: Norton, Sullivan.
Goal: Briggs (40).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.