South Shields moved to the top of the BetVictor NPL Premier Division with an impressive 2-0 win over Basford United at Mariners Park on Saturday.
Goals in each half from Jordan Hunter and Josh Gillies were enough to see their Mariners leapfrog five teams – including their opponents – to take their place at the summit.
It was a confident display from Shields in front of their highest crowd of the season to date and sets them up nicely for Tuesday’s game against Gainsborough Trinity at Mariners Park.
The hosts again deployed captain Jon Shaw in a striking role alongside Jordan Annear, who was making his first league start for the club.
Joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton will have been delighted with the way their side opened the game as they made their intentions known from the first whistle.
Hunter – whose loan from Sunderland was extended by a further 28 days earlier in the week – was at the heart of much of their brightest play with impressive surges forward from right-back, and he nearly created the opening goal six minutes in when his low cross almost found Shaw, but a defender just got there first.
Shaw went even closer when Craig Baxter delivered a ball from the left which he directed goalwards with his head, but goalkeeper Kieran Preston tipped his effort away.
Goalkeeper Myles Boney produced a strong performance for the Mariners and he was alert to push a free-kick from 25 yards by Ryan Wilson wide after the left-back tried to catch him out at his near post.
To fall behind at that stage would have been extremely harsh on Shields, who found the breakthrough themselves after 15 minutes.
Adam Thurston and Gillies combined to sweep the ball across to Hunter on the right of the box and he cut onto his left foot before firing a low effort which took a slight deflection and squirmed under the body of Preston as the right-back registered his first goal for the Mariners.
Basford had a decent chance to level 10 minutes before half-time as Wilson got in down the left and pulled it back to Jack Thomas, but he hooked over from a good position.
Shields pressed ahead after that as they searched for a second and it looked like they would get it when Annear powered through on the right of the area, but his scooped pass across the area was just ahead of Shaw.
The Mariners were frustrated again as a Blair Adams cross from the left was sent back across goal by Shaw to Thurston, and he fired the ball against the crossbar as the visitors survived again.
Six minutes into the second half, though, they were breached for a second time.
More enterprising play by Hunter on the right saw him skip past Wilson before sending a low cross into the feet of Annear, whose effort was parried by Preston. The ball broke to the advancing Gillies, who tucked it home from close range for his second goal of the season.
Hunter had visions of another goal when he hit the target from 20 yards soon after, but Preston was equal to his effort. That save came moments after a big penalty appeal following a challenge on Adams was waved away.
Basford put pressure on their hosts in the final half-hour as they tried to find a way back into the game, with Robert Briggs having to block well from Liam Bateman to keep Shields’ lead at two.
Boney then produced a tremendous double save from Matthew Thornhill, first showing superb reactions to stop an effort with his feet before picking himself up to close the angle and push the rebound from the same player wide.
From the resulting corner, another huge chance went begging for the visitors as James Reid’s cross found the head of an unmarked Nat Watson six yards out, but he directed the ball just past the post.
That was as close as Basford got, although Dillon Morse did need to produce a fine block with three minutes remaining to deny Watson.
Shields could have made it three as the clock ticked beyond 90 minutes as Adams forced his way through on the left to get a sight of goal, but he fired narrowly over.
The Mariners held firm to record another clean sheet, though, as they moved to the top of the early league table.
They will hope to stay there when they host Gainsborough Trinity on Tuesday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Adams, Briggs, Morse, Brown, Thurston (Turnbull 62), Baxter, Annear (Mason 70), Gillies (Alli 90+1), Shaw (c). Subs not used: Wokoma, Charlton.
Goals: Hunter (15), Gillies (51).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields and Basford United head into Saturday’s fixture at Mariners Park both eyeing top spot in the BetVictor NPL Premier Division.
A two-goal win for the Mariners would see them climb to the summit, while a point would be enough for Basford.
The rest of the top six are all on Emirates FA Cup duty on Saturday, giving Shields and Basford an opportunity to steal a march.
Mariners captain Jon Shaw feels the club’s supporters could make all the difference in Saturday’s 3pm kick-off.
He said: “I mentioned after the game last Saturday that the support we’ve been given already this season has been outstanding and words can’t always describe the difference it makes or the effect it has on us and our opponents.
“However, as much as Lee (Picton) and Graham (Fenton) set high standards for us I’m going to for our fans.
“We’re appealing for them to be there for us and get behind the team from the first second of the match and we will do everything we can to deliver for them.”
Shields have won their last two games since being knocked out of the FA Cup by Colne.
Last Saturday’s 2-1 victory at previously unbeaten Matlock Town was particularly pleasing for Shaw, who scored in the win.
He added: “The lads showed great character at Matlock to bounce back from the previous two performances.
“After drawing at Mariners Park and losing the replay at Colne in the FA Cup, I’m sure some people started to worry but Colne deserve a lot of credit for their approach and the way they executed their gameplan.
“From our point of view, it was obviously disappointing not to break them down over the two games, which is something we haven’t had too much experience of over the last few years, but Colne deserved to go through and we had to react.
“The training building up to Matlock was about sticking together while demanding more from each other and I think those traits showed in our approach to the match.
“We knew it was going to be tough with them being unbeaten, the travel and the quality of the pitch, but the focus from the lads was fantastic and we deserved the win.”
Shields are expected to be without Jason Gilchrist (hamstring), Nathan Lowe (calf) and Luke Daly (knee) on Saturday.
Jordan Hunter will be available after his loan from Sunderland was extended by 28 days.
Kick-off at Mariners Park is at 3pm and admission prices – which can be paid at the turnstiles – are £10 for adults, £8 for students and over-65s, and £3 for under-16s.
Tickets can be bought at reduced prices up to midnight on Friday by clicking here. Buying tickets online will also automatically enter you into a competition to win a season ticket for the remainder of the campaign.
The turnstiles at Mariners Park will open at 12.30pm and the usual Happy Hours will take place between 12.30pm and 1.30pm, and 5pm and 6pm.
A barbecue is to take place outside of the marquee immediately after the match, while the Newcastle United versus Brighton and Hove Albion game will be shown on the TVs from 5.30pm.
Robert Briggs salvaged a point for South Shields with a dramatic stoppage time penalty as Basford United were denied victory at the death at Mariners Park on Saturday.
Briggs converted from the spot seven minutes into added time as Shields snatched a 1-1 draw which left them three points behind Evo-Stik Premier Division leaders Farsley Celtic.
The Mariners had not been at their best – Basford hit the woodwork three times in the first half – but showed character in abundance to continue battling and eventually secure a point which could yet prove crucial.
A bitter and at times strong wind made life difficult for both teams but it was Basford who started the strongest, and they almost went in front as early as the second minute.
Lewis Carr advanced down the left flank and sent in a cross which was caught by the wind and struck the top of the crossbar as Shields breathed a sigh of relief.
There was another close shave for the Mariners soon after when Jack Thomas went on an impressive run down the right and sent in a delivery which was met by the head of Henri Wilder before a deflection sent it wide.
Shields eventually played themselves into some rhythm as they showed glimpses of the form which had seen them secure six successive victories, and almost opened the scoring when Robert Briggs played in Luke Daly and his goalbound effort was brilliantly saved by the outstretched foot of Basford goalkeeper Kieran Preston.
The visitors’ response was strong, and they had a golden chance to take the lead as Nathan Watson received the ball on the right and sent in a superb cross for Matt Thornhill, but he sent his effort away from goal from eight yards.
Basford hit the bar again when Thomas came inside from the right and dinked an effort which beat Liam Connell but did not have enough dip on it to drop below the crossbar.
Daly provided Shields’ biggest spark and he again tested Preston with a low drive which the goalkeeper pushed behind for a corner.
Basford continued to give as good as they got, though, and they were left scratching their heads as to how they did not go in front on the stroke of half-time.
Thornhill’s header from a Ryan Wilson free-kick was destined for the net before Connell pulled off a miraculous save and the rebound then struck the crossbar before being hacked off the line.
Shields will have been eager to make a better impression after half-time and they did that with a bright 10 minute spell.
They began to pepper the Basford goal with shots, with Nathan Lowe shooting over three times from distance before Briggs aimed for the spectacular with an effort from 10 yards inside his own half which Preston scrambled to save.
Connell still had to be alert at the other end, though, and kept out a shot from Thornhill after a Basford counter-attack.
The hosts were stunned on the hour mark as Basford took the lead. A free-kick was launched into the Shields box and after a spot of pinball, Carr fired the ball home with a low effort.
Shields had half an hour to rescue something from the game but found clear-cut chances difficult to come by.
Craig Baxter and Lowe had shots saved, while at the other end, Connell made a stunning one-handed stop to keep out a piledriver from Thomas.
The Mariners built up some momentum in the latter stages and substitute Ben Harmison had a good chance to bring them level with four minutes left, but headed wide at the back post.
Jon Shaw – pushed up-front in stoppage time – smashed two efforts not far off target before the key moment arrived four minutes into stoppage time when another Shaw shot was cleared off the line by the hand of Basford defender Wilson, who was shown a straight red card by the referee.
What followed was a three-minute delay which saw Wilson delay his exit from the field while a team-mate kicked away the penalty spot marking, before a scuffle delayed the spot-kick further.
The coolest man in the ground was Briggs, though, as he stepped up to smash the penalty into the top corner with just about the last kick of the game.
It was his 18th goal of the season and could yet prove to be the most important.
With three league games remaining, it’s still all to play for.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull (Harmison 76), Daly, Briggs, Mason (Cogdon 61), Lowe, Bell (Foley 61). Subs not used: Lough, Mouanda.
Goal: Briggs (pen 90+7).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.