An early header from Graeme Armstrong secured an important three points for South Shields as they battled to a 1-0 win at Clitheroe on Saturday.
Armstrong nodded in his fourth goal for the Mariners just four minutes into the contest at Shawbridge as the away side started strongly.
Clitheroe – who were sixth in the Evo-Stik North Division heading into the match – fought well, particularly in the second half, but were unable to find an equaliser.
The victory saw Shields maintain their three-point advantage over Hyde United – who they travel to on Tuesday – at the top of the table.
The early stages seemed to suggest it could prove to be a comfortable afternoon for the Mariners, who were without the likes of Carl Finnigan, Gavin Cogdon, Matty Pattison, Michael Richardson, Anthony Callaghan and Jamie Holmes.
Armstrong headed an early chance wide, but would not miss the target when presented with a second opportunity.
Craig Baxter worked well down the right and his initial ball in was headed out to Aksel Juul on the right.
Juul swung in an inch-perfect cross which was met with a diving header by Armstrong in the six-yard box as he netted for the third time in four league games.
Lee Mason – making his debut for the Mariners, 24 hours after joining from rivals North Shields – had a chance to make it two, but goalkeeper Chris Thompson kept out his low effort.
Shields had to be alert at the other end, and goalkeeper Liam Connell made a tremendous save to keep them ahead in the 16th minute.
Caldon Henson drove a shot from 25 yards which took a deflection and was destined for the top corner before Connell brilliantly clawed it away.
Robert Briggs almost made Shields’ lead more comfortable when a superb hit from the edge of the box just cleared the crossbar.
Clitheroe, who have shown good form in recent months, responded well, and put their visitors under pressure at various points in the game.
Captain Danny Brady will have felt he should have levelled before the half-hour mark when he headed over from a George Hughes cross.
Another close shave for the Mariners came when they failed to clear from a corner and an Ian Rowlands header looped in the air before being punched from the goal-line by Connell.
Clitheroe’s doggedness was impressive and they continued that into the second half.
Dimitri Tuanzebe screwed an effort wide early in the half in what was the hosts’ most presentable opportunity.
Shields were mainly restricted to half-chances at the other end, with the lively Juul at the heart of much of their best play as he was twice denied by blocks.
In the closing stages, Clitheroe put the Mariners under more pressure with a series of corners and free-kicks.
Connell did well to deny Jacob Gregory at his near post, while excellent clearances by Dillon Morse and Darren Lough in stoppage time ensured the home side did not have the opportunity to snatch a point.
Shields saw it out to claim another important victory ahead of Tuesday’s trip to second-placed Hyde.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Nicholson (Smith 78), Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Storey, Briggs, Armstrong (Devlin 90+3), Mason (Lough 61), Juul. Subs not used: Woolston, Guy.
Goal: Armstrong (4).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields kick-off a vital double-header on Saturday when they travel to one of Evo-Stik North’s most in-form sides.
The Mariners are away to sixth-placed Clitheroe, who have enjoyed an upturn of fortunes over recent months.
They have, though, lost their last two games, including a 4-0 reverse at second-placed Hyde United earlier this month.
Shields travel to Hyde on Tuesday, and joint manager Lee Picton feels it could be a crucial few days.
The Mariners go into the double-header sitting top of the league, three points clear of Hyde.
Picton said: “The next two games are potentially really crucial ones.
“Clitheroe have been in a pretty rich vein of form since the turn of the year and are a tricky opponent, especially away from home.
“Then we go to Hyde on Tuesday, which will be an enormous game.
“We have to pick the bones out of what happened in last Saturday’s game against Skelmersdale United, especially what happened in the first half, when we were very displeased with the performance.
“Thankfully we picked up to win 3-1, but we’ll have to make sure we start tomorrow’s match in much better fashion.”
Shields will be without left-back Anthony Callaghan, who is expected to miss the rest of the season with a back injury.
Gavin Cogdon is still sidelined with a hamstring injury, while there are doubts over Darren Lough, Barrie Smith and Matty Pattison.
Carl Finnigan could return after sitting out recent matches with concussion.
Kick-off at Shawbridge – which has a post code of BB7 1LZ – is at 3pm.
Clitheroe have released some information for travelling supporters which can be viewed by clicking here.
South Shields came from a goal behind as they swept to a 4-1 win over Clitheroe at Mariners Park on Saturday.
The Mariners found things difficult in the first half, and fell behind early on as Alex Newby turned the ball home from a corner.
The hosts started to find their feet in the closing stages of the half, and got back on level terms when Gavin Cogdon fired in off the post.
The second half was almost one-way traffic as Shields went through the gears, with Craig Baxter putting them ahead within four minutes of the restart when his cross bounced in front of the goalkeeper and went in.
Carl Finnigan gave the Mariners some breathing space before Cogdon added Shields’ fourth and his second, touching the ball home after Jon Shaw had headed it across goal.
The result meant Shields maintained their position at the top of Evo-Stik North and set them up nicely for the mouthwatering Emirates FA Cup tie against York City next Saturday.
They went into the game without Julio Arca, who had picked up a knock in last Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup win at Darlington, Alex Nicholson and Darren Lough, though goalkeeper Liam Connell was fit enough to take his place on the bench.
It was Clitheroe who started the brighter, and they got their reward when a third minute corner from the right by Robbie Bromley was flicked on by Brad Carroll and then turned in by Newby in front of goal.
Shields struggled to get flowing in the early exchanges and could have fallen a further goal behind when Kurt Willoughby got through on the inside-left of the box, but Jack Norton beat his effort away.
Clitheroe looked set to double their lead before the quarter-hour mark when Norton’s kick went straight to the feet of Willoughby, but the Shields goalkeeper atoned for his error by keeping out his drilled shot with his legs.
The Mariners improved as the half progressed, and had a golden chance to get back on level terms when Cogdon chested the ball through to Finnigan, but his effort bounced agonisingly wide of the upright.
Although Shields had by now gained a stronger grip of the game, the visitors still possessed a threat, and demonstrated that again when Newby got a shot away on the right of the box, forcing Norton to push it wide.
Having surrendered possession on numerous occasions in the early part of the match, the Mariners became noticeably more confident on the ball, and played their way from back to front as they scored the equaliser seven minutes before half-time.
The final touches were added when Finnigan played it through to Cogdon, who drilled a shot from a tight angle which bounced in off the post.
Jamie Holmes was another constant threat to the Clitheroe backline, and within two minutes of Shields’ leveller, he almost put them in front when he hit one wide from the edge of the box.
The Mariners had another opportunity to go ahead just before the break when Holmes was fouled on the edge of the box, and Robert Briggs’ free-kick was pushed away by Chris Thompson.
Less than four minutes into the second half, the home side were ahead for the first time.
The impressive Barrie Smith ran at the defence before laying it off for Baxter on the right, who came inside onto his left foot and sent in a teasing cross which deceived defender Ryan Ellison and goalkeeper Thompson as they left it to each other. The ball bounced between them before nestling in the goal.
Clitheroe responded well and went close to getting back on level terms almost immediately when Carroll’s effort from 20 yards fizzed not far past the post.
The Mariners made their lead more comfortable soon after with a very well-worked goal. Briggs, Smith and Matty Pattison played the ball between them in a triangle to free Pattison into some space, and he used that to tease a pass beyond the away defence for Finnigan, who rolled it low into the net.
Shields were by now dominant in possession, and had a number of half-chances before going further ahead.
A Briggs corner from the left found the head of Shaw at the front post, and his effort across goal was turned in by Cogdon from close range as he netted his second of the afternoon.
That made the points safe, and it was then merely a matter of how many goals the Mariners would win by.
They were unable to seriously test Thompson in the remainder of the game, though, and it was in fact Norton who had to be on his guard as he saved from Newby twice, as well as substitute Oliver Crankshaw.
It was a confident second half showing, in particular, from the Mariners, as they stayed two points clear at the top of Evo-Stik North ahead of their break from league action next Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Norton, Baxter, Callaghan, Shaw (c), Morse, Briggs (Storey 77), Smith, Pattison (Stephenson 62), Cogdon, Finnigan (Richardson 77), Holmes. Subs not used: Connell, Sullivan.
Goals: Cogdon (38, 67), Baxter (48), Finnigan (56).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.