Robert Briggs scored a hat-trick as South Shields moved three points clear at the top of the Evo-Stik North Division on Saturday.
Shields beat Skelmersdale United 3-1 at Mariners Park as they won for the third league game in succession.
Briggs’ early deflected effort was cancelled out by a penalty from Mike Roddy in a first half which proved to be difficult for the Mariners.
The hosts improved after the break, and a superb dinked effort by Briggs put them back in front before the midfielder also netted from the penalty spot to seal the points.
The Mariners had to do without a number of key players, with Carl Finnigan, Gavin Cogdon, Barrie Smith, Darren Lough, Anthony Callaghan and Dan Wright all ruled out due to injury.
They struggled to get going in the early exchanges, and were fortunate not to concede within the first 90 seconds as Jordan Darr got into a decent shooting position for the visitors before his deflected effort was saved by Liam Connell.
Shields mustered their first meaningful attack in the sixth minute, and made it count.
Louis Storey’s strike was deflected as far as Briggs 20 yards out, and his shot took a big deflection before looping over goalkeeper Lee Callum Roberts and in to break the deadlock.
Despite the early goal, the Mariners were unable to build any sort of momentum in the rest of the first half.
Connell did well to hold an effort from distance by Tom Molyneux soon after, and a similar shot from the Skelmersdale midfielder was also kept out.
At the other end, Jamie Holmes had opportunities to extend Shields’ lead, but was unable to find a way past Roberts.
First he was found 12 yards out, but saw his low shot saved, and then he sprinted in behind on the right before Roberts beat his effort behind for a corner, from which Storey headed over.
Skelmersdale posed a threat, and made it count in the 24th minute when a Julio Arca foul on Darr resulted in a penalty.
A cool spot-kick by Mike Roddy levelled the scores as he sent Connell the wrong way.
Shields’ advantage was almost restored within three minutes when Craig Baxter swung in a cross from the right which Holmes got on the end of, but after he had created some space for himself in the area, Roberts closed down the angle and made a good save.
The closest the Mariners came in the remainder of the half was when a Briggs free-kick curled just past the upright, while the last play of the half saw Skelmersdale’s James Galloway fire wide from distance.
Shields joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton will have been looking for a stronger performance after the break, and their troops showed their intentions from the first whistle of the second half, when they attacked with purpose and put their visitors under pressure.
That was rewarded less than two minutes into the second period when Briggs saw an initial shot saved before the ball bounced back to him and he sent a glorious, dinked effort over Roberts and under the crossbar.
The Mariners were enjoying their best spell of the game, and more good interplay almost led to a third goal when Storey played the ball inside for Alex Nicholson, who fired over.
Storey was again at the heart of things as Shields won a penalty just before the hour mark as he went on a fine run before playing in Matty Pattison, who the officials adjudged was fouled in the box.
Briggs took the responsibility from the spot and made no mistake as he found the bottom corner to complete his hat-trick.
The midfielder was full of confidence at this stage, and almost scored a memorable fourth when his volley from the edge of the box bounced just past the post.
Substitute Jack Devlin looked lively after his introduction at half-time, and had a number of efforts saved or blocked as he was kept off the scoresheet.
Skem had some half-chances of their own, but first George Withe and then Tom Hulme saw shots saved by Connell.
The Mariners saw the game out as they claimed an important three points and kept on track in their bid for promotion.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Nicholson, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c) (Richardson 82), Storey, Briggs, Armstrong (Juul 65), Pattison, Holmes (Devlin 46). Subs not used: Woolston, Scott.
Goals: Briggs (6, 47, pen 60).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.