South Shields returned to winning ways with a spirited 3-1 victory at a windswept Grantham Town to move four points clear at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division.
The Mariners showed impressive resolve throughout the 90 minutes to defeat their relegation-threatened opponents, despite high winds making it difficult for either side to find any rhythm.
They dealt with the conditions superbly and deservedly held a 1-0 lead from an early Lee Mason strike until a Gary Brown own goal on the stroke of half-time drew Grantham level.
Shields were dominant in the second half and reclaimed their lead when debutant Dom McHale’s whipped corner from the right took a deflection before finding the net, and Josh Gillies completed the scoring late on when his low cross from the left deceived the defence.
The Mariners went into the game with a somewhat depleted squad, with Myles Boney, Blair Adams, Dillon Morse, Darius Osei, Arron Thompson, Jordan Hunter, Luke Daly and Ross Coombe all unavailable, while Phil Turnbull was only fit enough for a place on the bench following an illness.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton were boosted by the comeback of captain Jon Shaw, though, who returned to the starting line-up at the heart of the defence.
Shields were playing against the wind in the first half and the ball repeatedly flew out of play in the early stages before the opening goal arrived in the 12th minute.
Craig Baxter sent a central ball forward which was headed down by Sefton Gonzales to Mason, who saw his initial effort saved by Jon Worsnop before sliding in the rebound.
They went close to adding a second midway through the half as Robert Briggs whipped a tremendous free-kick from the right onto the head of Brown, whose effort went just past the post.
Grantham did not seriously threaten an equaliser despite the wind often making it more difficult for Shields to exit their own half, but they did bring themselves back on level terms a minute into first half stoppage time when Joe Skarz’s free-kick from the left was headed against Brown by Lee Hughes before the ball dropped into the corner of the net.
There was still time for the Mariners to have an opportunity to retake the lead as Jason Gilchrist rounded the goalkeeper and Briggs had an effort blocked, but they took many positives into the break.
They had the wind at their backs in the second half and took full advantage of the conditions with some impressive play.
Shields’ determination and will-to-win was clear for all to see but they would ultimately need patience in their search for a crucial second goal.
McHale replaced the injured Mason at half-time as he made his debut for the Mariners and he was a lively presence throughout the second 45 minutes as his side probed for openings.
There were a number of frustrating near misses, with Nathan Lowe hooking a shot over, Gonzales denied by a block and McHale having a free-kick deflected wide as the pressure began to grow.
The ball was rarely out of Grantham’s half and after Gonzales headed narrowly wide from a Gillies cross, it appeared just a matter of time before Shields found the breakthrough.
It arrived with 17 minutes remaining as McHale whipped in a powerful low corner from the left which deflected against a defender before beating Worsnop. The corner appeared to be on target so McHale took the acclaim and with it, a debut goal.
Gonzales had a big chance to score the goal his endeavour deserved when he got on the end of a right-wing cross from Lowe but his header went just wide.
The Mariners did find a third goal on 85 minutes as Gilchrist held the ball up well and played it back to Gillies on the left, who curled in a teasing low cross which deceived the defence and Worsnop before nestling in the bottom corner.
That put the seal on a deserved and important victory for Shields on a day most of their league rivals were out of action due to the weather.
They are back in action on Saturday when they take on Buxton in another league fixture at Mariners Park.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Whitley, Verstraaten, Baxter (Gillies 66), Shaw (c), Brown, Ross, Lowe, Briggs, Gilchrist, Mason (McHale 46), Gonzales (Jenkins 90). Subs not used: Charlton, Turnbull.
Goals: Mason (12), McHale (73), Gillies (85).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.