South Shields maintained their excellent form as they came from behind to beat Whitby Town 5-2 on an entertaining afternoon at Mariners Park.
Shields fell behind early on but hit back almost immediately thanks to a superb strike from David Foley.
They then hit the front after visiting defender Jassem Sukar was sent off for a last-man challenge and Robert Briggs converted the resulting penalty.
Whitby battled well with 10 men and, after Foley had doubled his account for the afternoon, they got back into it thanks to a goal by substitute Matty Tymon.
The Mariners ultimately proved to have too much for the Yorkshiremen, and late goals from Dillon Morse and Blair Adams ensured they stayed top of the league.
They could not have got off to a much worse start, though.
Whitby pressed the hosts in the early exchanges and were rewarded when striker Ashley Coffey stole the ball high up the pitch and rattled in a 20 yard effort via the post.
There were just three minutes on the clock and the boisterous away support must have believed their team had a chance of halting Shields’ 19-match winning run at home in the league.
However, the response from Shields was instant as they began to dominate possession and carve the visiting backline open.
They were almost level within a minute of falling behind as Craig Baxter advanced through the middle and forced former Mariners goalkeeper Jack Norton into a smart low save. Norton was to be in the thick of the action throughout the 90 minutes.
Shields threatened an equaliser on a number of occasions as they marched into decent attacking positions before they did draw level in the 10th minute.
Lee Mason played a tremendous ball out to Foley on the left channel and he went on the outside of his marker before rifling a left-foot effort into the roof of the net.
Josh Gillies almost put Shields ahead when Gary Brown slipped the ball through to him on the inside-right of the box, but a superb block denied him.
Whitby, despite being second-best, did possess a threat and fired Shields a double warning when a Coffey shot was deflected wide before Callum Patton produced some impressive footwork before seeing his effort deflected over.
The game then swung decisively in the home side’s favour when a superb ball from near the halfway line on the left by Gillies found Foley and he was pushed over by Sukar in the area. The Whitby left-back was given his marching orders and Shields had a golden opportunity to hit the front.
Briggs did not pass it up as he found the corner of the net, sending Norton the wrong way from the spot.
Norton kept the deficit at one as he beat away a low drive by Gillies before Shields were forced into a reshuffle when captain Jon Shaw was withdrawn with a groin injury.
Phil Turnbull replaced him and slotted into midfield, with Baxter shifted to right-back and Brown to the centre of defence.
The Mariners carried their one-goal lead into half-time and came out of the blocks sharply in the second half as they aimed to put the game to bed.
Mason dragged an effort wide from the edge of the box before Shields did go 3-1 ahead after a flowing move.
Turnbull split the Whitby defence open as he played in Adams on the left of the box and his teasing low delivery was rolled home by Foley from close range.
Norton did well to keep the visitors in it, saving from Adams, Briggs and Gillies before making an even more impressive stop, keeping out a Gillies shot from point-blank range.
Shields were peppering the Whitby goal but Norton refused to go down without a fight as he made further saves from Foley, Gillies and substitute Gavin Cogdon.
Chris Hardy’s side then responded, though, and Liam Connell had to be alert to tip a piledriver from Dale Hopson over the bar.
He was beaten from the resulting Hopson corner as substitute Tymon met it at the near post and sent the ball into the bottom corner.
Suddenly, it was game on again and Whitby perhaps should have levelled when another Hopson corner found Tymon in the six-yard area, but he fired over.
Shields gradually regained their dominance, but continued to be frustrated by Norton.
He closed down the angle well to keep out one Baxter shot, made a tremendous close-range save from Nathan Lowe and palmed a Cogdon effort wide just as the Shields striker appeared certain to make the points safe.
Eventually, the win was sealed for Shields when a Cogdon header came back off the bar and Briggs diverted the ball across the area to Morse, who hooked it past Norton for his eighth goal of the season.
There was to be a cruel final blow for Norton as Foley played in Adams on the inside-left of the box with a minute remaining and his shot squirmed under the body of the goalkeeper as the Mariners added a fifth.
Shields’ victory means they have now won their last 20 home matches in the league, a run which stretches back to last February.
They are back in action next Saturday when they travel to Mickleover Sports in the league.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Brown (Lough 76), Adams, Shaw (c) (Turnbull 42), Morse, Briggs, Baxter, Lowe, Mason (Cogdon 66), Gillies, Foley. Subs not used: Mouanda, Harmison.
Goals: Foley (10, 51), Briggs (pen 25), Morse (87), Adams (89).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields left-back Blair Adams dropped in on an end-of-term showcase performance by pupils at a South Tyneside school to deliver a special surprise on behalf of the club.
The former England Under-20 international was joined by fellow club representatives Jamie Williams and Wess Brown to present Epinay Business and Enterprise School with a cheque for £1,000.
The club decided to make the donation after making a number of visits to the school, with officials left impressed by the outstanding work delivered by staff and the tremendous attitude and behaviour of pupils.
Epinay caters for children and young people aged four to 19 with a wide range of special educational and complex needs.
The school is led by headteacher Chris Rue, who had two spells as a player with South Shields.
Mr Rue added: “It is fantastic to have a partnership with our local football team, especially in these exciting times when South Shields FC are climbing the leagues and attracting such a huge fanbase.
“Our children are big supporters of the club, and many of them are now spending their Saturdays at Mariners Park.
“The players themselves are such positive role models and their work in the community has been shared during assemblies, so our children really do look up to them.
“The £1,000 donation has helped us build an outdoor classroom.
“This educational space allows children to do a number of things. I have already seen them rehearse performances and complete academic and vocational work in the space.
“It allows the children more freedom to express themselves and work in a more exciting and creative work space.
“I would personally like to thank Geoff Thompson and everyone at the club for their kind donation.
“We really hope our friendship and partnership grows over the season and beyond.”
Adams, Williams and Brown attended the school’s Christmas showcase performance, where pupils wowed an audience of family members and school staff with a range of dance routines.
South Shields FC chairman Geoff Thompson said: “As a club we really want to make our work more representative of the community and we recognise the invaluable role that Epinay plays in supporting children with additional needs.
“We think they do a great job and are really impressed with the environment that Chris and his staff have created.
“We’re impressed by the innovative ideas that they have and are really keen to support them.
“Everyone who has visited the school has been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and energy of the children and the care of the staff for them.
“We hope that this donation helps to make a positive difference for them.”
South Shields players Blair Adams, Daniel Wright and Ursene Mouanda went back to school on Monday as they launched a new programme which will see the club engage more with its youngest supporters.
The trio were joined by SSFC Foundation manager Steve Camm as they visited Westoe Crown Primary School to answer questions from pupils and hand out tickets for Saturday’s game against Mickleover Sports at Mariners Park.
They also presented the school with a signed home shirt which will either be put on display at Westoe Crown or be auctioned to raise school funds.
This was the club’s first school visit and was a particularly poignant one, as avid Shields supporter Jak Fada – who tragically died a year ago at the age of 10 – attended Westoe Crown.
About 180 Year 5 and Year 6 pupils talked with the players for almost an hour as they asked a wide range of questions.
Blair said: “There were some interesting questions and some you really had to think about.
“We covered all areas, from what we’d want to do if we weren’t footballers to the best teams we’ve played against.
“It’s always good to go into places like that and for the children to be able to speak with us.
“We want to try to build our fanbase.
“We all know the targets the club has over the next few years.
“We want to keep pushing up the leagues, and coming in to see the children is the start of us trying to grow our fanbase.”
Each Year 5 and Year 6 pupil at the school received a free ticket for Saturday’s match against Mickleover, as well as one for a parent or guardian.
They have all been invited to take part in the club’s Matchday Play Park, which takes place on the 3G pitch at 1.30pm on the day of each Saturday home game, while 10 of them will walk onto the pitch with the teams ahead of the match and five of them will take part in a literacy project with The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, based on their matchday experience.
Daniel Wright said: “We came along to hand out tickets and talk to the pupils, because it would be great to have a lot more younger people at the games.
“Hopefully it will boost our crowds on Saturdays.
“There were some funny questions which got you thinking and we all really enjoyed it.
“It’s important we get more and more younger fans at the games, because it will build our crowds massively.”
Ursene said: “We came in to have a little talk to the children and try to encourage them to come along to our games.
“I really enjoyed it.
“A lot of the kids were quite sharp and funny, and there were some very good questions.
“I’ve not been in a primary school since I left, so it was good to go back to one and it brought back a lot of memories.
“It’s really important we put on a good performance on Saturday so the children have a good experience and want to come back week after week.”
The club’s second school visit will see them go to St Bede’s RC Primary and Nursery School on Wednesday.
Picture caption: Players Ursene Mouanda, Daniel Wright and Blair Adams present a signed South Shields shirt to Westoe Crown football team captains Jay Brown and Lillie Oliphant, along with PE co-ordinator and Year 6 teacher Kate Bramley.