South Shields took another huge step towards promotion on Thursday with a terrific 2-0 win at Atherton Collieries.
The Mariners’ fourth successive league victory moved them three points clear of Hyde United at the top of the Evo-Stik North Division, with two games in hand.
Third-placed Scarborough Athletic were held to a 0-0 draw at Tadcaster Albion as Shields’ lead over them stretched to seven points with a game in hand.
The Mariners were up against an Atherton side in excellent form, having recently claimed the scalp of Scarborough.
However, their composed performance meant they were rarely troubled as they showed the qualities which have made their season so successful thus far.
They took the lead in the 13th minute, moments after Chris Lynch had headed a presentable opportunity wide for the hosts.
Dillon Morse sent a superb pass downfield which Lee Mason ran onto, and just as the angle looked as though it had become too tight, he squeezed the ball home for his fourth goal in three games.
Moments later, the lively Michael Richardson got in behind and looked set to score, but his effort was cleared off the line.
Chances were hard to come by for both teams, but the Mariners went close again when Craig Baxter’s sweet strike from 25 yards was well held by goalkeeper Greg Hartley.
Aksel Juul was introduced at half-time by Shields, and his impact was immediate.
A Richardson cross was clawed away from goal by Hartley but the Mariners kept the ball alive and the ball was played to Juul, who swept it into the bottom corner with his left foot.
Richardson curled an effort over, Mason volleyed past the post and Robert Briggs had a shot saved as Shields looked to add some gloss to the scoreline.
They continued to keep the ball well and saw the game out with ease to claim another important three points.
With at least the top two to win promotion, Shields are in a commanding position.
They will hope to maintain their fine form when they travel to Ossett Albion on Saturday for a 3pm kick-off.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c) (Ross 80), Storey, Briggs, Mason (Armstrong 70), Richardson, Holmes (Juul 46). Subs not used: Woolston, Nicholson.
Goals: Mason (13), Juul (50).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields maintained their place at the top of the Evo-Stik North Division after impressing in a 1-1 draw at Hyde United on Tuesday.
The Mariners enjoyed a perfect start at Ewen Fields, with Aksel Juul firing them into a second minute lead.
Max Leonard equalised for the hosts less than four minutes later, and the remainder of the first half proved to be even.
Shields bossed much of the second half, but were unable to find a way through, despite much probing.
They remain top of the league, two points clear of Scarborough Athletic and three ahead of Hyde.
Shields welcomed back Carl Finnigan at Ewen Fields, just more than three weeks after suffering concussion against the same opponents.
Less than two minutes in, he was celebrating Juul’s opener as the forward cut inside from the right before firing in his first goal for the club with a fine finish into the bottom corner.
The Mariners enjoyed an excellent start, but were pegged back in the sixth minute when Liam Connell pulled off an outstanding save from a corner, but could do nothing to stop the follow-up from Leonard.
Hyde were threatening in the remainder of the first half, and only two superb blocks denied Matthew Beadle and Tom Pratt.
Connell also did well to save from Janni Lipka before Shields battled back into the game.
Jon Shaw headed a Julio Arca corner just wide at the near post, while Graeme Armstrong was denied by a late block.
Shields had four players booked in the first half, but the team showed good composure after the break to ensure they stayed with 11 men on the pitch.
They built up good pressure as the second half progressed, but were unable to find a way past Hyde goalkeeper Peter Crook.
Robert Briggs saw an effort saved from the edge of the box, and Crook also denied Lee Mason and Finnigan with decent stops.
At the other end, Pratt appeared to be one of the hosts’ biggest threats, and on one occasion he ran at the Shields defence before forcing Connell into a good save.
The closest the Mariners came was four minutes before the end as Arca floated in a free-kick from the right which just evaded a touch before going narrowly wide.
Shields will hope to cement their position at the top when they host Radcliffe Borough at Mariners Park.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Storey, Briggs, Armstrong (Mason 54), Finnigan, Juul (Richardson 78). Subs not used: Lister, Nicholson, Smith,
Goal: Juul (2).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.