South Shields battled to a 2-1 win at Droylsden as they maintained their position at the top of the Evo-Stik North Division on Saturday.
On arguably the most difficult playing surface they have played on this season, the Mariners deservedly led 2-0 at half-time thanks to early goals from Graeme Armstrong and Dillon Morse.
Droylsden responded well after the break, and Ciaran Kilheeney’s goal two minutes before the end made it a nervy ending for the visitors.
However, they saw the game out to claim an important three points as they bounced back from Tuesday’s penalty shoot-out defeat to Hartlepool United in the Durham Challenge Cup.
A fast start ultimately reaped dividends, with a rally from the home side coming too late.
It took less than 90 seconds for Shields to take the lead, with Armstrong netting for the second league game in a row.
Robert Briggs’ effort was blocked into the path of the striker, who rifled a low effort between the legs of home goalkeeper Ritchie Branagan to give the Mariners a perfect start.
Droylsden, who were ninth in the table heading into this fixture, responded well, with the impressive Luke Daly forcing Liam Connell into a fifth minute save with an effort from distance.
Connell again denied Daly before Shields added a vital second goal midway through the first half.
Briggs’ free-kick from the right was half-cleared to Louis Storey 20 yards out, and he brilliantly hooked the ball into the box, where Morse was on hand to head it home.
It was the defender’s seventh goal of an increasingly impressive season.
Droylsden struggled to seriously trouble Shields in the remainder of the first half, but they improved after the break.
They should perhaps have pulled a goal back within 30 seconds of the restart, but after creating space for himself in the area, Liam Caddick could only shoot over.
Stephen Hall was the next to go close as he headed a left-wing cross by Daly just past the post.
The conditions were becoming ever more difficult as the pitch continued to cut up, but Shields did have a chance to wrap up the points when a loose clearance by Branagan fell to the feet of Briggs 25 yards out.
He curled the ball just over the crossbar as the hosts survived.
In the closing stages, Droylsden went increasingly direct, and they got their reward in the 88th minute when a Daly corner from the left was forced in by the head of substitute Ciaran Kilheeney at the near post.
Shields had to survive a flurry of set pieces and balls forward in the five minutes of stoppage time which were added, but ultimately had enough to see the game out.
They remain one point clear of Scarborough Athletic at the top, with a game in hand, which will be played tomorrow at home to Ossett Town.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Briggs, Storey, Armstrong, Wright (Devlin 57) (Richardson 86), Holmes (Pattison 51). Subs not used: Woolston, Nicholson.
Goals: Armstrong (2), Morse (23).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields returned to form in scintillating style as they hit Droylsden for six at Mariners Park on Saturday.
Carl Finnigan, Gavin Cogdon and Dillon Morse all scored twice as the Mariners moved to the top of the EVO-STIK North table with a 6-1 win.
It was a superb result for Shields as they bounced back brilliantly from the 3-1 defeat at Stafford Rangers in the Buildbase FA Trophy a week earlier.
Droylsden had a clear gameplan to play out from the back, and started brightly.
An effort from Liam Caddick deflected against the leg of Morse and bounced not far past the post.
The visitors’ day would only get worse from there, though, as Shields terrorised them with a well-executed high press.
The first warning sign came when a clearance from goalkeeper Ritchie Branagan smashed against Jamie Holmes and bounced just wide.
Then, just as the game ticked into the 10th minute and the ground stood to applaud in memory of 10-year-old supporter Jak Fada – who passed away on November 6 – his favourite player opened the scoring.
Finnigan, fittingly wearing the number 10 shirt, peeled off his marker to connect with a Cogdon cross and find the bottom corner.
It was an emotional moment at the end of an emotional week for all connected with the Mariners.
Cogdon made it 2-0, sending Holmes flying down the left wing before meeting his eventual pass in the centre and firing past Branagan.
It was almost three when Finnigan’s shot was parried by Branagan and struck defender Shaquille Clarke before going just past the post.
From the resulting corner, though, the third goal did arrive as Morse rose highest to head in Julio Arca’s cross from the right.
The defender was on the scoresheet again nine minutes before the break as the brilliant Cogdon got clear on the left and fizzed a low ball across goal which Morse struck into the roof of the net.
Droylsden withdrew Branigan at half-time after he was given a torrid time, but his replacement, James Coates, was beaten just six minutes into the second half after Finnigan converted a penalty when Holmes was fouled.
Cogdon was the latest to score his brace when he raced onto a Craig Baxter throw from halfway, brought the ball into the box and found the bottom corner.
Shields were unable to add any further goals, but Liam Connell made a good save at the other end from Dylan Smith.
Droylsden scored a consolation late on when a Connell parry fell to substitute Steve Hall, and he hit the ball first-time into the centre of the net. The points had long since been sealed by the hosts, though.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw (Nicholson 46), Morse, Arca (c), Smith, Briggs (Stephenson 66), Cogdon, Finnigan, Holmes (Sullivan 53). Subs not used: Pattison, Richardson.
Goals: Finnigan (10, pen 51), Cogdon (22, 61), Morse (26, 36).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
A minute’s applause will be held in memory of Jak Fada ahead of Saturday’s EVO-STIK North fixture between South Shields and Droylsden at Mariners Park.
The 10-year-old Mariners fan tragically passed away on November 6, and a further tribute is also planned in the 10th minute of the game, with another minute’s applause.
The match will see Shields return to league action as they bid to overtake Bamber Bridge at the top of the table.
The Mariners have won 11 of their 12 games in the league so far this season, and are one point behind leaders Bamber Bridge, who have played four more matches.
Joint manager Lee Picton is looking for his team to bounce back from last Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Stafford Rangers in the Buildbase FA Trophy.
He said: “Over the last 14 months, we haven’t had to bounce back from defeats very often.
“When we have had to do that, we have done it well.
“That’s what we need to do again, without doubt, on Saturday.”
Picton has been pleased with the Mariners’ results in the league so far this season, but is looking for an improvement in performances.
He added: “We have set targets already this season as to how many points we feel we will need to be successful at the end of the campaign.
“We’re approaching a third of the way through the season now, and if we can replicate the results we’ve had so far across the rest of the campaign, we will be where we want to be at the end of it.
“I’m really looking for us to start putting some performances together as well as results, because there’s still a lot more to come from these players.”
Droylsden are eighth in the table, with 24 points from 13 games.
Picton said: “They pose quite a potent attacking threat, and we’re aware of that.
“We’re going to have to rediscover some more defensive discipline to deal with them.
“We’ll also need to manage the game well on a tactical level.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to combine that with some cutting edge at the top end of the pitch.”
Kick-off is at 3pm and admission – to be paid at the turnstiles – is £8 for adults, £6 for students and over-65s, and £2 for under-16s.
The mascots for Saturday’s game (pictured below) are Theo Whickham, aged 10 (pictured with close friend Jak Fada) and Nathan Dix, aged 11.