South Shields made it seven wins out of seven to start the new season as Jamie Holmes again shone in a 3-1 victory over Ossett Albion at Mariners Park on Tuesday.
Fresh from scoring a brace in the 2-0 Emirates FA Cup win at Witton Albion three days earlier, Holmes struck twice more to help Shields extend their lead at the top of EVO-STIK North to three points.
Louis Storey – making his first start of the season – was also on the scoresheet as the Mariners were again made to work for their victory, with all of the goals scored in the second half.
Joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton had opted to freshen up the team by making five changes, with Anthony Callaghan, Alex Nicholson and Michael Richardson, as well as Holmes and Storey, brought in.
Shields started well, and could have taken the lead within the first two minutes when Robert Briggs found Richardson in a dangerous position, but his well-hit effort was blocked.
Carl Finnigan also sent an early sighter wide after Alex Nicholson got forward well from right-back to provide him with an opportunity, and at that stage it looked set to be a long night for Albion.
They settled into their gameplan, though, and the longer the first half went on, the more difficult to break down they became.
The Mariners were able to get into some dangerous areas, with Briggs – who had an excellent game in midfield – chipping an effort over and Matty Pattison whistling an effort past the post after being played in by Callaghan.
Shields were restricted to attempts from long range in the final half-hour of the first half.
One of those efforts came from Pattison, who saw a shot beaten away by Albion goalkeeper Dylan Parkin.
Parkin was twice beaten by superb efforts in the closing stages of the half, but the Mariners were left to rue their luck.
The first came when Storey broke forward and unleashed a piledriver which flew just over the bar.
Richardson, meanwhile, thought he had scored what would have been one of the goals of the season in stoppage time. He flicked the ball past a defender before rifling a stunning effort into the top corner from just outside the box, but the assistant referee’s offside flag cut the celebrations short. It was certainly a tight decision.
Shields attacked with more purpose in the second half and were rewarded just 60 seconds after the restart.
After playing a great give-and-go with Pattison, Holmes burst into the penalty area on the left and took a touch before arrowing a brilliant shot into the bottom corner.
It was a moment of quality which lit up the game, but the Mariners would have to be patient to seal the victory.
Richardson had an effort deflected narrowly wide while a Finnigan bullet stung the fingertips of Parkin as Shields pushed to do just that.
The breathing space they craved arrived on 73 minutes when Nicholson curled a superb ball onto the head of Storey, who powerfully nodded it past Parkin.
Within two minutes of that, though, Albion pulled a goal back as they threatened a comeback.
It was a fine goal, too, with an outstanding low cross from the right by Declan Dawson fired into the roof of the net by Callum Charlton.
The comeback was swiftly thwarted by Shields as they got back on the front foot and put the game to bed with 11 minutes left.
Nicholson capitalised on a poor goalkeeping clearance and played it towards Holmes on the inside-left of the box. He got on the end of the pass after Dawson failed to get control of it, and made the finish look far easier than it was, taking a touch to beat defender Danny South before hitting a low effort into the corner.
His second half performance deserved a second goal, and helped to earn the Mariners a 44th win in 45 games.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Nicholson, Callaghan, Lough, Storey, Arca (c), Briggs, Pattison (Baxter 66), Finnigan (Cogdon 74), Richardson, Holmes (Sullivan 81). Subs not used: Shaw, Morse.
Goals: Holmes (46, 79), Storey (73).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.