South Shields 3-2 Stalybridge Celtic: Gillies wins it at the death
Josh Gillies delivered South Shields an early Christmas present as his dramatic stoppage time winner maintained their 100% home record in the Evo-Stik Premier Division on Saturday.
Shields had twice been behind in a pulsating clash with Stalybridge Celtic at Mariners Park, with Lee Mason netting their equaliser on both occasions.
Substitute Gillies’ vital intervention came in the 92nd minute as his inswinging cross from the right deceived goalkeeper Jake Turner and bounced into the net to send another four-figure Mariners Park crowd wild on a bitterly cold afternoon.
Shields have won all nine of their league games so far this season.
They were made to work until the final seconds to secure their latest victory, though, by a dogged Stalybridge side who looked for long periods like they would take maximum points themselves.
The Mariners went into the game having won four of their previous five games in the league, and displayed their confidence in the opening exchanges with some good football.
They went close in the third minute when some good interplay on the right led to a cross from Craig Baxter which sailed perfectly onto the head of Gavin Cogdon, but he could only direct his effort at Turner in the Stalybridge goal.
Shields went close again when a Robert Briggs free-kick was nodded wide by Dillon Morse at the back post, but then the hosts lost their way slightly.
Stalybridge began to impose themselves on the match and fired their first warning as an effort from 20 yards by Matthew Wolfenden trickled wide.
Within a minute of that, the visitors were ahead as Scott Bakkor showed good persistence to steal the ball on the inside-right of the box before squaring it to Neil Kengni, who slotted home.
Shields could have gone 2-0 behind when Bakkor’s corner was met by the head of Jack Taylor, but the effort went wide.
It was an intriguing contest and the Mariners did have opportunities to get back on level terms, with captain Jon Shaw going closest as he just failed to get clean contact on a teasing Briggs free-kick.
Ten minutes before half-time, the equaliser did arrive when the quick-thinking Briggs played a free-kick through for Mason, who slid a terrific shot into the opposite bottom corner.
Shields almost made it a quickfire double, with Nathan Lowe curling just wide after more impressive play on the right.
The hosts will have felt confident of improving after half-time, but Stalybridge struck a real blow of their own just two minutes into the second half when the dangerous Kengni hit a first-time effort from the edge of the box which looped over Liam Connell and in.
The Mariners again had to go in search of an equaliser, and thought they had found it on the hour mark when Lowe played in substitute Gillies and he found the net, but the flag controversially went up for offside.
They had to wait just one more minute to get back on level terms, though.
Lowe was again the provider as his inch-perfect pass played in Mason on the right of the box, and he stroked the ball into the bottom corner for his second of the afternoon.
With sleet lashing down and temperatures around the freezing mark, the conditions became more difficult for the players as the match went on.
Both teams had opportunities to win it, and Connell twice made vital saves to keep Shields level, first denying Gregory Wilkinson with his feet before pushing a header from Kengni wide.
At the other end, a Gillies cross was deflected just past the post and a Briggs cross was caught by the wind before just clearing the crossbar.
As the game went into added time, it looked destined to end all-square, which Shields would have viewed as a missed opportunity with four of the six teams above them not in action.
Two minutes into stoppage time, though, the vital moment arrived.
Gillies received the ball on the right flank, switched it onto his left foot and swung in a hopeful cross which bounced in front of Turner before nestling in the corner of the net.
It was a fortunate goal, no doubt, but just the kind of luck Shields required to keep their winning home run going.
They return to action on Tuesday with a trip to Chester-le-Street Town in the Durham Challenge Cup.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Cogdon (Gillies 59), Briggs, Mason (Brown 90+4), Finnigan, Lowe (Foley 73). Subs not used: Lough, Mouanda.
Goals: Mason (35, 61), Gillies (90+2).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.