South Shields avenged their early-season defeat to Colwyn Bay with a comfortable 4-1 victory over the Welsh side at Mariners Park on Saturday.
The Mariners were in control from the start against the Bay, and took the lead in the fourth minute when Gavin Cogdon finished off a flowing move.
The visitors were reduced to 10 men midway through the first half when goalkeeper Matt Cooper was given his marching orders for a foul on Cogdon, and from the resulting free-kick, Julio Arca curled a sumptuous effort past substitute Kris Leigh.
Darren Lough fired in his first goal for the club eight minutes before the break and, although Danny Andrews pulled one back for the Bay, Shields were never seriously troubled.
They completed the scoring in the 56th minute as Robert Briggs rattled home a penalty to leave the Mariners just once point short of securing promotion.
It’s a slightly complicated process, but a point would mean that, even if Shields were overhauled by Scarborough Athletic and Hyde United and finished third, they would be guaranteed to possess the best points per game ratio of any third-placed finisher at their level in the country.
The third-placed team with the best points per game ratio at this level will earn automatic promotion.
Up against a Colwyn Bay side which caused them many problems in an early-season 4-2 defeat, a difficult afternoon was expected at Mariners Park for Shields on Saturday.
But the Mariners got out of the blocks swiftly and took the lead in just the fourth minute.
Arca sprayed a glorious pass from the centre of the park to Lee Mason on the right, he beat his man and squared for Cogdon to bundle the ball home.
The Mariners continued to cause their opponents problems before a key moment came midway through the first half.
With Cogdon running through on goal, goalkeeper Cooper came charging out of his area and brought the striker down.
Perhaps harshly, he was shown a straight red card, and his replacement Leigh’s first action was to pick the ball out of his net after Arca curled a sumptuous free-kick into the corner of his goal.
Shields were rampant and almost had a third when Jon Shaw clipped a pass forward for Cogdon, who turned his defender and rattled an effort against the foot of the post.
Carl Finnigan was denied by a close-range save soon after and Jamie Holmes went close before the points were eventually wrapped up.
Lough drove inside from the left and played it to Cogdon, who flicked it back into the left-back’s path.
First time, he sent a bullet of a shot into the top corner as Lough registered his first goal for the Mariners – 15 months after joining.
The Welsh side regrouped, and pulled a goal back a minute before the break when an Andrews effort from distance took an awkward bounce and found the top corner.
There were chances at both ends at the start of the second half, with Shields goalkeeper Liam Connell doing well to keep out a free-kick from Josh Brizell before Finnigan was denied at the other end.
The Mariners’ fourth goal arrived when Finnigan was fouled in the area and Briggs made no mistake from the spot.
Shields mostly conserved energy in the closing stages, though Luke Sullivan, Shaw and Holmes all went close, while at the other end Connell saved well from Andrews.
The Mariners had moved three points closer to promotion. One more will do.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c) (Ross 68), Mason, Briggs (Richardson 57), Cogdon, Finnigan (Sullivan 57), Holmes. Subs not used: Woolston, Biwer.
Goals: Cogdon (4), Arca (24), Lough (37), Briggs (pen 56).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields’ incredible 45-match unbeaten run came to an end on Saturday as Colwyn Bay ran out 4-2 winners in EVO-STIK North.
The Mariners had not tasted defeat since November 5, 2016, and had won 44 of their 45 games since then.
However, they gave themselves too much to do in North Wales after falling 3-0 behind in the first half.
Shields tried to launch a second half comeback, and after Alex Nicholson pulled a goal back, they looked to have found a way back into it when they were awarded a penalty.
However, Michael Richardson’s spot-kick was brilliantly saved by home goalkeeper Matt Cooper and Colwyn Bay scored again to make the three points safe.
Substitute Luke Sullivan got on the scoresheet deep into stoppage time for the Mariners, but it was too late for any dramatic fightback.
Shields had started the game well, and created a great chance to open the scoring in just the fourth minute as some tricky play by Jamie Holmes down the left led to a cut-back for Gavin Cogdon, whose effort lacked the power to beat Cooper from eight yards.
The visitors went closer again soon after when a glorious ball into the box by Robert Briggs was headed towards goal by Nicholson. It looped in the air before bouncing back off the crossbar, and the rebound was skewed wide by an off-balance Craig Baxter.
It was a bright start from the Mariners, who created another opportunity when Briggs saw a shot from the edge of the box blocked.
However, they were unable to build on that, and only a fine interception from Jon Shaw prevented Colwyn Bay opening the scoring as he atoned for giving the ball away seconds earlier.
The reprieve for Shields was temporary, though. In the 10th minute, a corner from the right by Louis Barnes was flicked on at the front post by Astley Mulholland and then diverted across the area by Jack Hindle, with captain Sam Barnes on hand to hammer the ball into the net via the bar from close range.
The Mariners looked for an instant response, and Carl Finnigan tried to provide it within 10 seconds of the restart, but his effort from 25 yards went well wide.
Colwyn Bay doubled their lead on 17 minutes as Cooper’s goal kick was flicked on first by Hindle and then Danny Andrews. Mulholland raced onto it and dispossessed Shaw before running through on goal and rifling past Liam Connell.
The Mariners continued to produce some good play in patches, and almost pulled one goal back when Cogdon played Baxter in on the inside-right of the box, and his cross bounced just beyond Finnigan as he seemed set to head it in.
At the other end, the home side’s frontmen continued to cause problems, and Mulholland went close to making it 3-0 as he cut inside before firing a low effort which Connell did well to palm to safety.
Holmes always looked dangerous coming in from the left flank for the Mariners, and another moment of fine play from him almost led to a goal as he tricked his way past a defender and into a great position, only for his pass across goal to be well cleared.
Try as they might, Shields just could not get what could have been a vital goal in the first half.
They went close again when Holmes cut inside from the left and his shot took a deflection before spinning against the post, and then agonisingly away from Finnigan, who was waiting to pounce on the rebound.
Colwyn Bay were awarded a controversial penalty with three minutes remaining in the first half when Hindle went down under a challenge from Shaw. Replays appeared to show that contact – if any – had been made outside the penalty area, but the referee pointed to the spot.
Hindle himself stepped up to take the penalty, and sent Connell the wrong way to secure a three-goal lead for his side at the interval.
It almost got worse for Shields just a minute into the second half as Andrews excellently played in Hindle, but he hammered the ball wide to let the visitors off the hook.
The Mariners started to gather momentum after that, and their first chance fell the way of Nicholson, whose sweet strike was too central and was well held by Cooper.
Then came another moment of controversy after some impressive interplay led to Holmes bearing down on goal, and just as he was about to pull the trigger, he appeared to be knocked off balance and fell to the floor. The referee waved play on.
Shields finally got on the scoresheet just after the hour mark to breathe new life into their comeback bid. A Briggs cross from the right was sent across goal by Cogdon and then brilliantly fired home from a tight angle by Nicholson as he scored his second goal for the club.
It would be wrong to say that it was all one-way traffic after that, though, as Colwyn Bay had good opportunities to make the points safe.
Hindle created space for himself in the area and pulled the ball back to Mulholland, whose effort was cleared off the line by Shaw as Shields breathed a sigh of relief.
Soon after that, it was Hindle’s turn to go close as he beat Baxter before blasting the ball goalwards, and his attempt was brilliantly kicked clear by Connell.
Shields broke from the resulting corner and created an opportunity of their own, with Holmes shooting not far over from 12 yards.
Another opportunity came and went as Briggs’ effort from the edge of the box was well saved by Cooper, but the Mariners kept the ball alive and were awarded a penalty when Briggs was adjudged to have been tripped in the area.
Richardson immediately signalled that he wanted to take it, but Cooper produced a brilliant save to his right and it appeared that it was not to be the Mariners’ day.
They struggled to recover from that blow, and the home side made the points safe as Hindle superbly beat Nicholson on the left before running into the box and placing a shot to perfection into the bottom corner.
Shields kept going and pulled a goal back seven minutes into added time when Sullivan showed great strength and persistence to beat his defender before forcing a shot under Cooper.
Despite the defeat, the Mariners remained top of EVO-STIK North, and they will hope to bounce back when they travel to Colne on Tuesday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Callaghan, Shaw, Storey (Morse 59), Arca (c), Briggs, Nicholson, Cogdon, Finnigan (Richardson 59), Holmes (Sullivan 71). Subs not used: Norton, Smith.
Goals: Nicholson (62), Sullivan (90+7).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Bob Scott.
The Mariners make their longest league trip of the season on Saturday when they travel to North Wales to take on Colwyn Bay.
The match is taking place at the Four Crosses Construction Arena, on Llanelian Road, Old Colwyn, which has a post code of LL29 8UN. Kick-off is at 3pm.
There are no plans for crowd segregation, and SSFC supporters have been told to expect a warm welcome.
Admission prices – to be paid at the turnstiles – are £10 for adults, £6 for concessions, £3 for those aged 16 to 18, and £1 for under-16s.
For any late places on supporters’ coaches, please contact Westoe Travel on 0191 455 2292 or the Simonside Branch on 07706 517010.
IMAGE: Kev Wilson.