South Shields 1-4 Nantwich Town: Disappointing afternoon for Mariners
South Shields missed the chance to go further clear at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division as they were beaten 4-1 by Nantwich Town at Mariners Park.
The in-form visitors scored with the only shot on target in a tight first half with a goal of the season contender from Casper Hughes, whose long distance piledriver found the top corner.
Shields battled for an equaliser against a well-organised outfit and found it with 18 minutes left as Jason Gilchrist nodded in his 20th goal of the season at the back post.
The vital third goal went the way of the visitors on 80 minutes as Sean Cooke finished off a well-worked move with the aid of a deflection and as the Mariners committed men forward in the closing stages, Nantwich scored twice more to seal an impressive victory.
The hosts started the game positively as they dominated possession, but the Dabbers proved to be a difficult team to break down as they held firm and restricted Shields’ opportunities to score.
Two Robert Briggs efforts from distance drifted wide but the Mariners will have felt confident more meaningful chances would arrive if they continued to show patience.
But they were then stunned nine minutes before half-time when the ball broke to Hughes 30 yards out and he took a touch before unleashing an unstoppable screamer which flew into the top corner.
Shields’ play had some greater urgency in the remainder of the first half, with both Darius Osei and Briggs having efforts deflected over before the teams were given the opportunity to regroup at the break.
The Mariners thought they had equalised in the 53rd minute when home debutant Osei headed home, but the celebrations were cut short by the offside flag.
The home side were looking more and more dangerous and went close to an equaliser as Craig Baxter teed up Osei in the area and his powerful effort was blocked by a defender, with Shields appealing for handball in vain.
Moments later Osei was forced off with a tight hamstring and Gary Brown was his replacement, with Dillon Morse pushed into a makeshift striking role.
The leveller arrived on 72 minutes and the change looked inspired as Brown lofted a ball into the box which Sefton Gonzales and Morse both battled for before a miscued clearance diverted to Gilchrist, who headed home at the back post.
Shields had the momentum and a number of other openings came their way, with Jordan Hunter firing over from the right of the box and Morse going closer when he beat goalkeeper Greg Hall to the ball but saw his header cleared off the line.
At that stage few would have bet against the Mariners going on to win maximum points but they were hit with a sucker punch with 10 minutes left as Nantwich impressively worked the ball down the right and a low cross found Sean Cooke, whose deflected shot wrong-footed Myles Boney and trickled agonisingly into the bottom corner.
Shields went more direct in their search for a second equaliser and one scramble in the box caused problems for the Dabbers before they were able to hack the ball clear.
Hunter had an effort deflected narrowly over and Brown headed wide from a corner but as more bodies were committed forward in Shields’ quest to salvage a point, they were twice hit on the break as first Ricardo Fuller and then Luke Walsh produced superb finishes on the break to give the scoreline a harsh look for the Mariners.
Shields are back in action on Tuesday when they take on Morpeth Town in the Integro Cup at Mariners Park.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Baxter, Ross (Thompson 62), Morse, Verstraaten, Lowe, Briggs (c), Gilchrist, Osei (Brown 70), Mason (Gonzales 54). Subs not used: Charlton, Whitley.
Goal: Gilchrist (72).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.