South Shields survived a spirited Mickleover Sports fightback as a double from Sefton Gonzales helped them to a thrilling 5-2 win at Mariners Park.
First half goals from Arron Thompson and Nathan Lowe were cancelled out in five second half minutes by the visitors, who had won their previous three league matches.
Shields recovered brilliantly from that setback, though, with Gonzales striking his first two goals for the club late on while Jason Gilchrist also got on the scoresheet.
The result ensured the Mariners remained three points clear of Lancaster City at the top.
It was a testing afternoon for both sides in blustery conditions but Shields quickly seized control and thought they had taken the lead in the 13th minute when Gonzales bundled in a right-wing cross from Craig Baxter.
The goal was ruled out, though, after the referee adjudged Gonzales had fouled Mickleover goalkeeper Elias Rouse, much to Shields’ frustration.
The wind meant both goalkeepers had to be on high alert, particularly to the danger of efforts from long range, and Myles Boney showed he was up to the task when he kept out a strike from Ricky Ravenhill.
The Mariners broke the deadlock midway through the first half as Thompson netted his first senior goal for the club.
He drifted in a cross from the right which Gonzales tried to get on the end of before the ball dropped into a dangerous area, with Rouse unable to prevent it finding the bottom corner. Many suspected Gonzales had got a touch on the cross but he later confirmed he hadn’t, leaving Thompson to celebrate his first goal.
Shields were pressing their opponents brilliantly and carved Mickleover open again within two minutes of the restart before Baxter fired well over from the edge of the box.
The second goal arrived in stunning fashion on 32 minutes as Lowe received the ball back from a short corner before curling a fantastic effort into the top corner from the left, leaving Rouse with no chance.
The Mariners thought they had scored a third on the stroke of half-time after some sublime skill by Thompson and a composed finish from Gilchrist, but the flag went up for offside.
Shields appeared in complete control and had opportunities to go three goals up in the early stages of the second half.
Gilchrist flicked the ball wide after a terrific pass from Gonzales and saw a further shot saved by Rouse, who also produced a tremendous fingertip stop to deny Baxter.
Mickleover began to threaten a comeback after that but struggled to breach the Shields backline, with Boney saving a mis-hit effort from Greg Young, Gary Brown denying Stuart Beavon with a superb block and Thompson also blocking from the same player.
Shields’ threat was still there at the other end and they almost put the game to bed when Lowe dinked an effort just wide after impressive link-up with Gilchrist, while Robert Briggs also had a shot blocked.
A six-minute spell from the visitors stunned the Mariners as the scores were levelled heading into the closing stages.
After Andrew Wright had fired just over from the right of the area, Mickleover pulled one back as Patrick Webb headed in from close range following a Boney save from Beavon.
The equaliser came from a left-wing corner which dropped to Wright on the right of the box before he lashed the ball home.
Shields’ response was emphatic, though, as the crowd got fully behind their team.
Substitute Blair Adams delivered a terrific cross from the right and a controlled overhead kick from Gonzales found the bottom corner as he registered his first goal for the club before celebrating with a backflip.
Mariners Park erupted again 12 minutes before the end as Shields restored their two-goal lead when Lowe delivered a magnificent free-kick from deep on the left which was delicately touched home by Gilchrist for his 12th goal in 12 games.
Gonzales put the seal on it in the 89th minute as he headed home at the back post following some superb play on the left by Lowe, who was a menace throughout.
It turned into a terrific win for the Mariners ahead of Tuesday’s Integro Cup trip to Dunston and a vital league fixture at second-placed Lancaster City next Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Baxter (Adams 66), Shaw (c), Brown, Turnbull (Ross 77), Thompson, Briggs (Verstraaten 66), Gilchrist, Lowe, Gonzales. Subs not used: Morse, Mason.
Goals: Thompson (22), Lowe (32), Gonzales (75, 89), Gilchrist (78).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
SSFC Academy graduates Arron Thompson and Callum Guy have continued their progression by signing first-team contracts for the 2019-20 season.
The deals will see them stay with the club for at least another year as they bid to build on an extremely positive last 12 months.
Thompson joined the Academy a year ago and went on to make three senior appearances last season, most notably in the Durham Challenge Cup final against Shildon when he produced a polished and composed display in midfield.
Guy linked up with the club when the Academy was formed two years ago and has made a significant impact since then, consistently impressing at Academy level and also when called upon by the first-team. He currently has nine senior appearances and two goals to his name.
Both players have now graduated from the Academy set-up to the first-team squad, and joint manager Graham Fenton is pleased they have committed their future to the club.
He said: “We’re delighted that Arron and Callum have agreed to sign for the club for at least the next year.
“Both players have thoroughly deserved their opportunity to join the first-team squad through their performances over the course of their time with the Academy.
“We feel both have progressed excellently over the last 12 months and we have high hopes that over the next year they will be really pushing towards first-team places.”
Thompson and Guy were part of the Shields team which won the National League Under-19 Alliance League Cup last season, beating Basford United on penalties at Walsall’s Banks’s Stadium.
Thompson scored in what was a 2-2 draw while both netted in the penalty shoot-out, with Guy dispatching the winning kick.
Fenton insists that the work has only just begun for the midfield pair, though.
He added: “They both know they’ve still got work to do to get there but they have the attitude and mentality to put the effort in to get their rewards.
“They will further boost the competition for places in midfield areas and they know that the players who are ahead of them at the moment are very, very good players, but I’m sure they will give it everything they’ve got to progress and earn their right to play in the first-team.”
South Shields academy lifted their first national trophy after overcoming Basford United on penalties on a dramatic night in Walsall on Wednesday.
In the first of a double-header of national finals for the young Mariners, Shields deservedly took a 1-0 lead into half-time thanks to a sweet strike by Arron Thompson.
Basford gained a foothold in the second half, though, and two goals in four minutes from Kyeron Daws turned the game on its head and tested Shields’ character.
They responded in superb style, though, and almost immediately brought themselves back on level terms with a terrific finish by David Allasan into the top corner.
The match ultimately went to penalties, with Tom Bexton, Thompson, Olly Scott, Jake Dunn and Callum Guy all converting from the spot, while Jacob Bramley saved one spot-kick to deliver the young Mariners their first trophy: the National League Under-19 Alliance League Cup.
Shields started brightly at the Banks’s Stadium and almost took the lead early on when Scott fired a ball across the area which Allasan turned over after a fine run.
Max Cowburn saw two efforts saved before the Mariners took the lead in the 26th minute.
Thompson showed patience in the middle before playing in Allasan on the right of the box, and although goalkeeper Dennell Stokes kicked away his shot, Thompson rifled home the rebound from just inside the area.
Bramley made an impressive save from Niall Hylton before half-time but that was a rare opportunity for Basford, with Guy and Cowburn both going close at the other end.
The young Mariners went close to doubling their advantage 10 minutes into the second half when substitute Dom Minchella motored down the left and squeezed in a low cross for Guy, who was denied by the legs of Stokes.
Another opportunity came and went as a Ben Errington header from a Minchella free-kick was tipped onto the bar and the ball bounced back to him. Shields felt Errington was fouled in the aftermath, but the referee waved away the protests.
Basford equalised against the run of play in the 64th minute when Zak Goodson beat his man on the left of the box before hitting an effort against the post, and Daws was there to finish off the rebound.
Daws made it a quickfire double just four minutes later as a rebound from a free-kick fell to his feet and he rifled the ball home.
Shields’ response was instant and they almost levelled things up within a minute as Guy got in behind on the left and fired a ball into the area which Michael Colquhoun turned over.
They did not have to wait too much longer to make it 2-2, though, and the crucial goal arrived when Guy beat the defence with a terrific through ball and Allasan rifled it into the top corner from the right of the area.
Shields had a number of chances to win it before the 90 minutes were up, but Guy, Minchella and Scott were all frustrated as their efforts went just past the post.
The final therefore went to penalties, but the young Mariners ultimately held their nerve to make it a memorable night.
SSFC Academy: Bramley, Morris (Allen 59), Scott, Thompson, Errington, Bexton (c), Allasan, Carney (Dunn 82), Colquhoun (Marcelino 73), Guy, Cowburn (Minchella 53). Sub not used: Armstrong.
Goals: Thompson (26), Allasan (71).