Robert Briggs struck an ice-cool stoppage time winner from the penalty spot as South Shields made it eight league victories in a row against Stalybridge Celtic at Mariners Park.
Briggs’ nerveless spot-kick settled a feisty encounter which had seen Celtic sternly test the credentials of their hosts.
Shields deservedly took the lead 10 minutes before half-time when David Foley’s deflected effort found the net, and they appeared well set to push on in the second half and press their advantage home.
Stalybridge fought back, though, and they were the team with the momentum when Chris Smalley fired them level 15 minutes from the end.
The Mariners showed tremendous resolve in the closing stages and when Nathan Lowe was fouled in the area, few were expecting Briggs to do anything but find the net.
He did just that to stretch Shields’ lead at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division to 10 points ahead of Saturday’s trip to Witton Albion.
The Mariners were unchanged from their 3-0 win over Atherton Collieries three days earlier, with Lee Mason and Josh Gillies continuing to miss out with illness and a stomach strain respectively.
They picked up where they left off in that match by keeping possession well in the early stages and threatening the visiting backline.
Blair Adams was the first to test Stalybridge’s on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Fojticek with a fizzing volley from the left of the area which the Slovakian did well to hold.
Although Shields were on top, they almost fell behind in the 18th minute as Jonathan Ustabasi nipped in behind on the left of the box and directed the ball across Myles Boney, who stretched out a leg to make an impressive save before Gary Brown and Phil Turnbull calmly cleared the danger.
The Mariners played some of their best football of the season to date in the first half and were rewarded 10 minutes before half-time.
Brown slid in to win the ball in the middle and it broke to Adams on the left. He swung in a superb cross which was met first time at the back post by Foley, whose shot took a big deflection before leaving Fojticek with no chance as the frontman notched his third goal in two matches.
The hosts’ lead was almost doubled three minutes before the interval when Jordan Hunter jinked past his man on the right of the box before thrashing an effort which cannoned against the far post.
The second half proved to be a more difficult affair for Shields as Stalybridge asserted themselves more on proceedings and provided a real threat.
A first warning came when Adams was forced to block brilliantly from Scott Bakkor, and frustration grew among the Mariners’ ranks as they were unable to rediscover their flowing football.
A two-minute burst of pressure from Shields just after the hour mark did threaten to put the game to bed, though.
Their first opportunity came as they patiently worked the ball from right to left and Foley was played in on goal, but Fojticek narrowed the angle quickly and made a good save.
The Mariners were then left scratching their heads as to how they were not two up as Sanmi Odelusi turned in the area and fired a low shot which hit the hand of Fojticek but was destined to find the net before a superb goal-line clearance saved the day for Stalybridge.
Almost immediately they went close to levelling as they broke down the other end and Darius Osei got in behind on the left before forcing Boney into a smart stop at his near post.
The match developed into a tetchy, tight battle and Stalybridge began to pressure their hosts before equalising from a corner.
With 15 minutes remaining, Declan Walker swung the ball in from the right and after Shields initially failed to clear it fell the way of Smalley, who struck it low and hard into the bottom corner.
The Mariners needed to respond and did so. They looked set to go back in front when substitute Jon Shaw was played through on the left of the box, but he dragged his effort wide.
At the other end, Ustabasi almost had a big opportunity to win it when a free-kick from the left dropped to his feet in front of goal, but he was unable to react quickly enough and the ball bounced off him and out for a goal kick.
The key moment came a minute into stoppage time when Shields got in down the right and Lowe was fouled in the area.
After a significant delay, Briggs stepped up to send Fojticek the wrong way from the spot and ensure the Mariners would celebrate another victory.
They now go in search of a ninth consecutive league win when they travel to Witton Albion on Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Adams, Turnbull, Morse, Brown, Thurston (Baxter 81), Lowe, Odelusi (Shaw 65), Briggs (c), Foley (Gilchrist 65). Subs not used: Charlton, Wokoma.
Goals: Foley (35), Briggs (pen 90+1).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
David Foley netted a brace as South Shields secured a comfortable 3-0 win over Atherton Collieries with a convincing performance in front of the biggest Mariners Park crowd of the season to date.
Over 1,750 fans witnessed Foley’s double and a first goal for the club from Sanmi Odelusi, who was making his first home appearance for the Mariners.
The result rarely seemed in much doubt and moved Shields eight points clear at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division table.
They went into the match without the injured Josh Gillies and ill Lee Mason, with Adam Thurston and Odelusi replacing them in the starting line-up.
Shields started brightly and after Robert Briggs fired over from 25 yards, an even better chance fell the way of Odelusi.
The Mariners worked a move down the right and Foley was played in before squaring the ball for the frontman, who put it wide from close range as he was made to wait for his first goal.
The hosts went even closer to taking the lead when a Briggs free-kick from the left was dropped by Atherton goalkeeper Oliver Byrne to the feet of Gary Brown, but his first-time effort squirmed wide.
Atherton struggled to put pressure on the Shields back line but did create a chance on the break in the 21st minute when Vincent Bailey scampered through the centre and played in Jordan Cover, who struck across the ball and saw his shot swerve past the post.
The deadlock was finally broken on 28 minutes as two of the Mariners’ most experienced players combined.
Briggs got away from his man in midfield and used the space to good effect by finding Foley, who brought the ball onto his left foot before firing a low effort past Byrne for his first goal of the season.
Shields barely gave Atherton time to breathe as they won the ball back almost immediately from kick-off and they soon went close to doubling their lead as Briggs fired not far over from distance.
The second goal arrived seven minutes before half-time as Odelusi marked his home debut in style.
Nathan Lowe took a great deal of credit for his role in it as he swung in an inch-perfect cross from the left which Odelusi stooped low to head in from close range.
The Mariners picked up where they left off at the start of the second half and after Foley had a shot blocked, he soon added his second of the afternoon.
A long passing move from the hosts reached its climax as Jordan Hunter brilliantly picked out Thurston down the right of the box and he put the ball on a plate for Foley to finish from six yards.
The remainder of the half saw Shields tire their opponents out with impressive possession and probing, with Atherton rarely threatening a consolation goal.
The closest they got was in the 55th minute as Cover raced through towards goal and looked destined to score, but Brown chased him superbly and eventually made an excellent tackle to deny him.
Lowe went close to notching a fourth for the Mariners when he blasted the ball narrowly over from the edge of the box after being teed up by substitute Jason Gilchrist, and Gilchrist went close himself as a Byrne clearance ricocheted against him before trickling just wide.
Shields generally appeared content to keep the ball and conserve their energy in the latter stages as they wrapped up another three points to continue their impressive run.
They are back in action on Tuesday when they take on Stalybridge Celtic in another league fixture at Mariners Park.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Adams, Turnbull, Morse, Brown (Wokoma 82), Thurston, Lowe (Baxter 68), Odelusi (Gilchrist 61), Briggs (c), Foley. Subs not used: Charlton, Shaw.
Goals: Foley (28, 51), Odelusi (38).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields captain Jon Shaw is set for a spell on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
The defender was forced off at half-time of Tuesday’s game against Ashton United at Mariners Park and the injury continues to be assessed, but he will certainly miss Saturday’s match against Hyde United and Monday’s trip to Scarborough Athletic.
Also missing from the weekend’s action will be midfielder Luke Daly, who suffered a knee injury in Tuesday’s game. The injury will be further assessed next week.
David Foley (groin) and Blair Adams (groin) have also been ruled out of the Hyde match, while Craig Baxter will miss both of the weekend fixtures as he continues his recovery from a hernia operation.
Adam Thurston is a doubt for Saturday’s game, with a decision on his availability set to be made on the morning of the match.