South Shields 2-0 Birtley Town
Two moments of quality were enough for South Shields as they saw off Birtley Town to make it nine consecutive league victories.
Shields were frustrated for long stretches of the game by relegation-threatened Birtley amid difficult, windy conditions at Mariners Park.
However, they finally broke through in the second half with two goals in four minutes as Robert Briggs and David Foley’s efforts made the points safe.
The win moved the Mariners to within four wins of promotion, and maintained their eight-point advantage at the top of Ebac Northern League Division Two.
In front of an Easter Saturday crowd of 917, Shields started as they aimed to go on as they got in behind on the right through Martyn Coleman within 20 seconds of kick-off, but just as he looked like he might score, the ball broke loose and the visitors scrambled it clear.
Foley also saw an early effort blocked from a Briggs free-kick, but Birtley were resilient and belied their league placing.
Shields always looked the more likely team to score, with Warren Byrne having two efforts kept out and Leepaul Scroggins sending a volley over, while a bigger chance came when Foley pulled the ball across the box to Coleman, but it went just behind him and he was unable to get a clean strike in.
It seemed just a matter of time before the deadlock would be broken, and Byrne came the closest to that when he got on the end of a ball through the middle, but after he hit a shot across goal, Birtley goalkeeper Dominic McMahon did brilliantly to save it with his foot.
Another close shave was when Foley got in behind on the inside-left of the box and then fired across goal, where Coleman and debutant Kris Hughes were just unable to stretch enough to slide it in.
A shot from Byrne took a deflection and went just past the post, while the same man came close to scoring a second wonder goal in a week when his volley from the edge of the box went inches wide.
The sides therefore went in at half-time level, but the Mariners almost went ahead within a minute of the restart as top scorer Byrne headed not far off target.
The same man was involved again soon after as he hit a shot over, while at the other end, Birtley went close to taking a shock lead when the dangerous Andrew Townsend swung in a free-kick which took a wicked bounce off the turf and was well tipped over by debutant Dale Connor in the Shields goal.
The Mariners’ frustration was growing, with Coleman volleying their latest opportunity over at the near post before Michael Turner was introduced from the bench in place of Hughes.
Finally, the breakthrough arrived in the 64th minute. Coleman – who had done some tireless work on the flanks – again spread out to the right to receive the ball, and he delivered an inch-perfect cross which Briggs did brilliantly to get on the end of as he headed low into the ground and then the net.
The feeling around Mariners Park was one of relief, and Shields looked set to motor on further when, just four minutes later, Briggs threaded an excellent ball through for Foley, who took a touch and then coolly rolled it into the bottom corner to make it 2-0.
However, that was to be the last goal of the day as Birtley continued to show good doggedness and refused to be on the wrong end of a heavy scoreline.
John Grey drilled an effort wide for the hosts and there was also a chance for Coleman, whose shot from the edge of the box took a deflection and was saved by McMahon.
Other than that, Shields were unable to pick a way through the visitors’ back-line as they were forced to settle for 2-0.
Despite some frustration with the performance amid difficult conditions, the Mariners did enough to get the job done as they moved onto 83 points ahead of Wednesday’s fixture at Heaton Stannington.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connor, Smith, Grey, Hassan (Riding 69), Carson, Briggs, Hughes (Turner 62), Scroggins (c), Byrne (Ramsey 74), Coleman, Foley. Subs not used: Richardson, Hall.
Goals: Briggs (64), Foley (68).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.