South Shields 4-1 Alnwick Town
South Shields secured a remarkable 20th win in a row as they overpowered Alnwick Town with a strong second half performance at Mariners Park on Saturday.
The Mariners went in at the break on level terms after Julio Arca’s early opener was cancelled out in first half stoppage time.
However, after half-time, there was no stopping Jon King’s side as they went nine points clear at the top of Ebac Northern League Division Two.
Warren Byrne put them back in front after Arca’s effort had come back off the crossbar, and Barrie Smith crashed home goal number three with a sweet strike into the top corner.
The game was wrapped up late on by substitute Andrew Bulford, who turned in a Jonny Wightman cross on the volley.
Shields went into the game without captain Leepaul Scroggins (tonsillitis), Adam Sakr (hamstring), Stephen Ramsey (knock) and Scott Pocklington (illness), as well as long-term injury absentees Lewis Galpin and Lewis Teasdale.
However, there was a start for debutant Danny Carson at right-back after he joined the club from Jarrow Roofing earlier in the week.
Shields enjoyed much of the early possession but were unable to convert that into clear-cut chances, with two Daryll Hall headers from Ben Riding long throws the closest they came before Arca handed them the lead on 18 minutes.
After Wayne Phillips had been bundled over outside the box on the left, Robert Briggs pulled the free-kick back to Arca on the edge of the box as part of a pre-planned routine. Arca’s shot was central before being deflected in by a visiting defender as the former Sunderland and Middlesbrough midfielder grabbed his fifth Mariners goal.
Arca almost added a second five minutes later when he curled a free-kick just wide from the right, while a cross from Carson narrowly cleared the crossbar.
Shields were not as fluent as they would have liked, but did restrict Alnwick going forward, with a Jonathyn Quinn shot which went wide on 40 minutes their first effort on goal.
The visitors did draw level a minute into first half stoppage time, though, when Kieran Hogg’s corner from the right was met by James Jackson at the near post, and he nodded it into the opposite corner.
The Mariners responded well to that setback at the start of the second half as they wrestled control of the game in the driving rain.
They first went close when an Alnwick defender diverted the ball just past his own post, while Arca had an effort deflected wide as Shields increased the pressure.
On 51 minutes, they took the lead again when Byrne scored his sixth goal in five games, and his 22nd of the season.
David Foley beat his man on the left and his pass across the box was controlled by Byrne, who then fired a shot which was blocked on the line. The ball broke to Arca, who hit the bar, but it was then diverted by Hall and Foley to Byrne eight yards out, and he powered it home.
Two minutes later, Mariners Park was stunned as Byrne was played in on goal and looked certain to score before slipping and screwing an effort well wide.
Briggs and Michael Turner were both denied before goal number three arrived on 58 minutes.
Foley split the Alnwick defence with a tremendous through ball to the inside-right of the box, and Smith ghosted in to strike it into the top corner as he claimed his first goal of the season.
Turner went close to adding a fourth when his header was cleared off the line, while visiting goalkeeper Luc Glasper almost conceded another when he fumbled a chip by Arca.
Substitutes Jonny Wightman and Bulford combined on 78 minutes as the points were wrapped up.
Wightman tricked his way past his man on the left, and his low cross was steered in on the volley by Bulford as the two former Dunston UTS men linked up to good effect.
There were opportunities for the Mariners to grab a fifth, but Bulford, Paul Kane and Wightman were all unable to beat Glasper as the scoreline was kept at 4-1.
After Ryhope CW lost 4-1 at Team Northumbria on the same day, the three points sent Shields nine points clear at the top.
They are next scheduled to be in action on Tuesday, with Morpeth Town the visitors to Mariners Park in the FA Vase.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Young, Carson, Turner, Hall (c), Riding, Arca, Smith, Briggs (Kane 61), Byrne (Bulford 61), Foley, Phillips (Wightman 75). Subs not used: Maitland, Heptinstall.
Goals: Arca (14), Byrne (51), Smith (58), Bulford (78).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.