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.
South Shields travel to Grantham Town on Saturday as they bid to end a run of four league games without a win.
The Mariners remain top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division heading into the trip to Lincolnshire but know the importance of picking up maximum points against a side sitting second-bottom, having lost their last five in the league.
They know better than to take Grantham lightly, though.
The Gingerbreads claimed a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture at Mariners Park and last season, when Shields travelled to South Kesteven Sports Stadium in similar circumstances, Grantham took a 2-1 victory.
Shields joint manager Graham Fenton is well aware of Grantham’s threat as both sides look to bounce back to winning ways, with the Mariners having been beaten 5-2 by Morpeth Town on Wednesday in the Integro Cup.
Fenton said: “It’s not going to be the same type of pitch as Wednesday and we’ll have to adapt.
“We’ll have to get back to what we did really well in the second half at Lancaster last month.
“We’ve come up with a gameplan to be effective away from home and it probably won’t be anywhere near as open and expansive as it was on Wednesday.
“We’re all disappointed about how that game panned out but we’re going to stick together and all want to get the next performance and result right.
“Once we get one right, we feel it can snowball from there.”
Fenton admitted Wednesday’s second half performance wasn’t good enough after Shields let a 2-1 lead slip.
However, he insists now is not the time to be negative as the Mariners look to kickstart a good run of form.
He added: “We’re in a tough spot at the moment but there’s no point in us blasting the lads and being negative about it.
“It’s about looking at what we did well on Wednesday and the reasons we did them well, and what we did poorly and the reasons behind them.
“It’s now time for us to get it right on Saturday and for the lads who are playing to roll their sleeves up.”
Craig Westcarr struck a 73rd minute equaliser as Grantham Town held South Shields to a 1-1 draw at Mariners Park in front of a crowd of more than 2,000 on Saturday.
Shields had been on course to win when Nathan Lowe struck his first goal of the season early on.
But they were pegged back by the Gingerbreads in the second half after the visitors produced a dogged performance, with the Mariners seeing their lead at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division cut to five points.
Shields were looking to bounce back from their 3-1 loss at Witton Albion a week earlier, and introduced Jason Gilchrist into the starting line-up in place of David Foley.
They started positively and had two early opportunities to open the scoring, with Gary Brown seeing a thunderbolt from just inside the area blocked before Sanmi Odelusi fired wide.
Grantham grew into the game, though, and almost went ahead in the sixth minute when Danny Racchi’s corner found the head of Rob Atkinson and he nodded the ball against the post.
The visitors created another chance from a Racchi set-piece as his corner fell to James Berrett, who forced Myles Boney into a smart low save.
It was an open start to the match and Shields were the next to go close as Odelusi guided a cross from the right by Robert Briggs narrowly past the post.
The opening goal arrived on 16 minutes after some impressive interplay between Lowe and Gilchrist on the right of the box before Lowe curled a low effort into the bottom corner from 20 yards to open his account for the season.
After such a frenetic start the game settled into more of an even rhythm as the first half progressed in increasingly wet conditions.
Shields carried their 1-0 lead into half-time and almost doubled their advantage two minutes into the second half when a sliced defensive clearance fell into the grateful arms of Grantham goalkeeper Sam Andrew.
The Mariners went closer to adding a second in the 57th minute when Gilchrist beat the defence with a superb ball through to Craig Baxter on the right of the area, but his drilled effort was well saved by the legs of Andrew.
Grantham fired a warning that they still possessed a threat when a sweet strike from distance by Racchi tested Boney, and they scored what proved to be a pivotal equaliser with 17 minutes remaining.
Shields failed to clear a long throw from the right and Westcarr pounced with a first-time volley into the bottom corner.
Stung by that blow, the Mariners reacted strongly and attacked immediately from the restart, with Briggs shooting over from the edge of the box within a minute.
Another opportunity came as Lowe got in down the right and fired in a low cross which Andrew got a hand to before Gary Brown headed wide.
As Shields pressed forward in search of a winner they were almost caught out at the other end as Remaye Campbell took aim from 20 yards, but Boney got down well to make a superb fingertip stop to keep his side level.
The home team’s best chance for a winning goal came a minute before the end of normal time as substitutes Lee Mason and Foley combined, with Mason getting in behind on the right of the box before squaring the ball across goal for Foley, who looked set to be left with a tap-in but could not quite get the contact he needed as claims for a penalty were waved away.
Shields continued to press for a goal but could not create any more clear-cut opportunities as Grantham saw out five minutes of stoppage time to return home with a point.
The Mariners will look to bounce back on Wednesday when they travel to Ryton and Crawcrook Albion in the Durham Challenge Cup.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Adams, Turnbull, Morse, Brown, Baxter (Thurston 72), Briggs (c), Gilchrist, Lowe (Foley 78), Odelusi (Mason 55). Subs not used: Charlton, Wokoma.
Goal: Lowe (16).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.