Ben Harmison was at the double as South Shields strengthened their promotion hopes with a confident 3-1 win at Mickleover Sports on Saturday.
Craig Baxter opened the scoring early on for the Mariners and Harmison made the points safe with a goal in each half.
Mickleover pulled one back towards the end but were unable to force their way back into contention as Shields closed the gap at the top of the table to seven points, having played a game less than the top two.
They were dealt a double blow in the build-up to the trip to relegation-battling Mickleover, with Nathan Lowe and Connor Bell both ruled out with injuries.
And it was Sports who created the first opportunity, with a sweeping move leading to a shot from Shaquille McDonald which arrowed wide.
Shields asserted their dominance after that and took the lead on eight minutes.
After some intricate play on the left, Luke Daly played the ball across to Baxter, who nipped in front of his man, took a touch and buried an effort from the edge of the box into the bottom corner.
Mickleover were off target with two attempts from long range before Shields truly began to dominate, creating a number of good chances.
Lee Mason played an impressive disguised pass through to David Foley, but goalkeeper Lewis King closed the angle well to make the save.
More eye-catching football from the Mariners led to Robert Briggs playing in Foley and he looked certain to score, only for the ball to take a bobble, with Foley’s shot clearing the crossbar.
Shields were frustrated again when a brilliant 25 yard free-kick from Briggs beat King but struck the inside of the post before somehow bouncing to safety.
Less than a minute later, though, the Mariners did double their advantage.
Blair Adams came inside from the left channel and fizzed in a low shot which King parried to the feet of Harmison, who converted into an open goal from close range.
Harmison was one of a number of Shields players who proved to be a constant threat as Mickleover’s backline was kept busy.
However, the hosts almost pulled a goal back out of nothing three minutes before half-time as Nathan Jarman tried to catch out Liam Connell from distance, but the Shields goalkeeper pulled off a superb one-handed save to preserve the two-goal lead.
That could have been extended before half-time when a Briggs free-kick dropped to the feet of Harmison after some uncertainty at the back, only for King to react well to make the save.
He also saved from Foley before the break as Sports were given an opportunity to regroup.
Chances were harder to come by for the Mariners in the second half but they all but made the win safe on 58 minutes when Foley drove down the left and dug out a cross which Harmison stretched to turn home at the back post.
King kept Phil Turnbull off the scoresheet as he beat away his long-range effort before Mickleover almost pulled a goal back when substitute Jimmy Phillips weaved his way through and hit a goalbound effort which Shields captain Jon Shaw had to clear off the line.
Sports did get themselves a goal nine minutes before the end, with a corner from the left falling to the feet of substitute Tomas Junek, who squeezed an effort over the line from just inside the box.
The closest they came to a second was a 25 yard free-kick from Mason Warren which was deflected wide, before Durrell Berry headed a presentable opportunity over from the resulting corner.
Shields saw out the rest of the game to seal an important three points on a day which saw Farsley Celtic overtake Warrington Town at the top following the Yellows’ shock home defeat by Stafford Rangers.
The Mariners’ game in hand on the pair comes on Tuesday when they host Marine.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter (Mouanda 82), Adams (Lough 75), Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Mason (Gillies 61), Briggs, Harmison, Daly, Foley. Subs not used: Thompson, Cogdon.
Goals: Baxter (8), Harmison (26, 58).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
New dad Lee Mason delivered a Boxing Day present to remember for South Shields as he inspired a vital win at Scarborough Athletic in the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
The Mariners were a goal behind before Mason who welcomed new daughter Matilda on Friday – struck twice to turn the game on its head.
Ben Harmison netted a stunning goal from distance to seal Shields’ three points late on as they stayed fifth in the table.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side went into the match knowing the importance of picking up maximum points, having drawn 1-1 at Lancaster City on Saturday.
They started brightly and could have opened the scoring after just 25 seconds when some fine work by Mason set up a chance for Carl Finnigan, but he fired inches past the post and into the side netting.
David Foley also had two opportunities to get on the scoresheet early on, shooting not far wide with his first attempt before his next one was blocked.
Shields were hit with a sucker punch in the 15th minute, though, when a 25 yard free-kick by Scarborough striker James Walshaw beat Liam Connell to give the hosts the lead.
Boro went on to have their best spell of the game and could have doubled their advantage when a knock-down by Walshaw found James Cadman, who volleyed over from close range.
The home side again went close soon after, but Connell did well to cling onto the ball after a flick by Walshaw from a free-kick.
Shields had several opportunities to level the scores as the first half went on, with Mason the first to threaten when he headed a Phil Turnbull free-kick goalwards before his effort was hacked clear.
A huge penalty appeal for handball was waved away soon after before the Seadogs countered and Connell had to be alert to save from Cadman.
The Mariners looked certain to equalise when Mason was sent clean through on the inside right of the area, but his drive was too central and Scarborough goalkeeper Tommy Taylor beat it away.
Walshaw almost doubled the home side’s lead a minute before half-time after being sent through on goal, but Connell did well to kick away his shot as Shields survived.
It was to prove a crucial save as Mason capitalised on a miscued defensive clearance on the stroke of the break.
He raced through on goal on the inside-right of the area and this time drilled a low effort across the goalkeeper and into the corner to deservedly bring Shields level.
The second half saw a more controlled performance from the Mariners as they showed greater patience on the ball and worked for their breakthroughs.
Finnigan had a low effort from distance saved and Robert Briggs chipped one narrowly over as they began to increase the pressure.
They continued to be kept at bay, although they went close again when Nathan Lowe played in Blair Adams on the inside-left of the area and he rattled the woodwork with a rasping drive.
Josh Gillies and Craig Baxter also saw shots saved as Shields probed for a breakthrough, and it finally came with 11 minutes left.
Scarborough failed to clear a Gillies corner from the right and the loose ball dropped to Mason, who controlled it with his chest before firing low into the net for his second of the afternoon.
The points were secured a minute from the end when Harmison advanced into the Scarborough half before beating Taylor with a stunning effort into the top corner from 35 yards.
It capped a fine come-from-behind win for the Mariners, who now go into a double-header of home games on Saturday and New Year’s Day as they look to strengthen their promotion hopes.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Foley, Briggs, Mason (Harmison 82), Finnigan (Gillies 70), Lowe (Brown 87). Subs not used: Lough, Mouanda.
Goals: Mason (45, 79), Harmison (89).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields survived a scare to secure a late win over Chester-le-Street Town in the Durham Challenge Cup on Tuesday.
Dillon Morse netted the winner eight minutes from the end to seal a 2-1 victory for the Mariners and secure their place in the quarter-final.
Ben Harmison had opened the scoring early in the second half before Michael Hepplewhite equalised for the hosts.
Shields signalled their intent by naming a strong starting line-up as they continued their bid to reclaim the trophy they won in 2017.
In difficult conditions they started well against the Northern League Division Two side, with David Foley and Nathan Lowe both narrowly missing the target early on.
Teenager Callum Guy had a better opportunity to break the deadlock when he got on the end of a flick from Foley, but home goalkeeper Aaron Steavens denied him.
Shields continued to be frustrated and went close again when Foley got in behind on the left of the box and fired in a low ball which Harmison narrowly failed to convert.
The Mariners hit the woodwork on the half hour mark as Darren Lough’s cross from the left deceived Steavens before striking the post, with Harmison sending the rebound over.
A Josh Gillies free-kick went just past the post on the stroke of half-time and although the home side were dogged, Shields will have felt confident going into the second half.
They found the breakthrough almost immediately as a strike from distance from Ursene Mouanda took a deflection before being tipped onto the bar by Steavens, and Harmison tapped in the loose ball.
Harmison nodded a further effort not far wide after a cross from the left by Gillies, but the Cestrians levelled things up against the run of play in the 69th minute.
A low cross from the right led to a mix-up at the back and Hepplewhite took advantage to flick the ball home.
The second round tie was heading for penalties as it stood, although Gary Brown almost swung things back in Shields’ favour when he prodded an effort against the post from a Lowe free-kick.
The Mariners went close again when Mouanda threaded a ball through to Foley and Steavens did well to deny him.
However, the goalkeeper’s resistance was finally broken in the 82nd minute when he again saved a Foley effort but this time he parried to the feet of Morse, who made no mistake.
The centre-back thought he had scored again a minute before the end with a close range finish, but the offside flag cut his celebrations short.
Shields had done enough to qualify for the last eight, but will be looking for an improvement in Saturday’s league trip to Lancaster City.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Lister, Biwer (Baxter 83), Lough, Mouanda, Morse, Brown (c), Gillies, Lowe, Harmison (Cogdon 83), Guy (Briggs 83), Foley. Subs not used: Shaw, Adams.
Goals: Harmison (46), Morse (82).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.