South Shields won their fifth game on the bounce as they continued their Evo-Stik Premier Division title bid on Saturday.
Shields defeated Hednesford Town 4-1 at Mariners Park to stay a point behind Farsley Celtic at the top of the table.
Nathan Lowe put them ahead in the first half and two goals from Robert Briggs, along with Connor Bell’s first for the club, made the points safe in the second half.
The Mariners named an unchanged line-up from the team which triumphed 3-1 at Marine a week earlier, and after a quiet start to the game, they entered the ascendancy.
The match burst into life in the ninth minute as Lowe continued his excellent goalscoring form with another fine strike.
He picked up a loose ball 25 yards from goal, took it past a defender and rifled an effort into the bottom corner from just outside the box on the right.
It was Lowe’s ninth goal in 16 appearances for the Mariners and gave Shields the perfect platform to dominate possession for most of the first half.
Hednesford undoubtedly carried a threat, though, as they displayed why they went into the match with much confidence themselves, having won four and drawn two of their previous six games.
Despite that, they almost fell further behind on 27 minutes as Briggs tried to catch out goalkeeper Jake Weaver with a free-kick which he aimed at his near post, but the Hednesford stopper just managed to push the ball onto the post before saving a follow-up by Jon Shaw.
The Pitmen had half-chances of their own in a first half which was lacking in any further real goalmouth action, with Kieran Wells proving to be their biggest threat, but he was off target with two efforts.
The closest they came to levelling was a shot from 12 yards by Reece King which Liam Connell did well to push to safety with a fine reaction stop.
Shields returned for the second half with renewed vigour and extended their lead in the 52nd minute as Bell latched onto a flicked header by Briggs and, with Weaver advancing, he slotted the ball under the goalkeeper to score a much-deserved first goal for the club.
The Mariners went on to have their best spell of the game as they set about making the points safe.
They went close to making it three almost immediately as Bell turned provider, stealing the ball high up the pitch before teeing up Briggs, whose drive was beaten away by Weaver.
Weaver was powerless to prevent the third Shields goal before the hour mark, though, as a Lowe corner from the right was half-cleared and then played back to him by Shaw, and he sent in a terrific low cross which Briggs turned in from close range.
Hednesford pulled a goal back in the 67th minute as a corner was bundled in by Brad Wells, offering them a glimmer of a lifeline.
Shields were soon creating chances again and almost restored their three-goal lead as a pass was threaded through to Luke Daly and he was denied by a good Weaver save.
The Mariners were given a golden opportunity to score their fourth when Phil Turnbull was brought down on the left of the penalty area, and Briggs stepped up to convert from the spot and score his 16th goal of the season.
With the game now won, Shields were able to relax in the closing stages as another three points were chalked off.
With Farsley Celtic and Warrington Town both picking up maximum points elsewhere, though, it was as you were at the top of the table.
Shields will hope to register another victory on Tuesday when they travel to Workington.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams (Lough 61), Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Daly, Briggs, Mason (Cogdon 61), Lowe, Bell (Gillies 79). Subs not used: Mouanda, Foley.
Goals: Lowe (9), Bell (52), Briggs (58, pen 77).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
Hednesford Town are the visitors to Mariners Park on Saturday (3pm kick-off) as South Shields aim for a fifth successive victory.
The Mariners go into the match a point behind Evo-Stik Premier Division leaders Farsley Celtic with six games to go.
Shields have tasted defeat just twice in the league since mid-October but still have much to do if they are to make it four consecutive league titles, and joint manager Graham Fenton knows how costly any complacency could prove to be.
He insists his side are relishing the task ahead of them over the coming weeks.
Fenton said: “With six games to go, we all know what’s at stake.
“It’s safe to say that everyone in the playing and support staff is really looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead in these six matches.
“We know we’re going to have to go close to winning all of them to be in with a chance of automatic promotion, as Farsley Celtic are in good form themselves and Warrington aren’t dropping too many points behind us either.
“We’ll try our utmost to provide performances with entertaining and attacking football and we are going to need everyone’s support to help us gain the advantage we need in the home games especially.”
Shields were beaten 2-1 in the reverse fixture in October, midway through a run of six defeats in seven matches.
They have been greatly improved since then and go into Saturday’s game hoping for help from elsewhere, with Farsley Celtic facing a tough trip to Buxton and Warrington away to Matlock Town.
Fenton is refusing to focus on anything other than Shields, though, and is expecting a difficult game against Hednesford.
He added: “Hednesford beat us at their place and now they’ve got to experience the same long journey we did that day.
“They’ve done well recently and are into the top 12, so we’re expecting a tough afternoon.
“For us, it’s just the same challenge as always.
“It’s going to be tight right until the end so we just have to keep our foot on the gas and continue to ask questions of the two teams up there with us.
“We’re on our home patch and we’ve got a great record at our place, so hopefully we can keep it that way on Saturday.”
Shields are expected to welcome back David Foley after he missed out on last week’s trip to Marine through illness.
Gary Brown remains a doubt, with Carl Finnigan and Barrie Smith still out with their long-term injuries.
Ben Harmison serves the final match of his three-game suspension.
Kick-off at Mariners Park is at 3pm and admission prices – which can be paid at the turnstiles – are £10 for adults, £8 for students and over-65s, and £3 for under-16s.
Discounted tickets can be bought before midnight on Friday by clicking here.
South Shields suffered a disappointing defeat at Hednesford Town on Saturday despite an attempted second half fightback.
The Mariners found themselves with much to do after a difficult opening to the game which saw Dan Sweeney strike twice within the opening 20 minutes for the hosts.
Lee Mason pulled one back midway through the second half but Shields were unable to find an equaliser as they slipped to seventh in the Evo-Stik Premier Division table.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side were looking to build on their excellent 5-0 win over Grantham Town in their previous outing, and started brightly at Keys Park.
Mason let fly from distance within the first two minutes, and only a sprawling save from home goalkeeper Sheridon Martinez denied him.
The early positivity was soon brought to an end, though, when Hednesford took the lead in the fifth minute.
Matt Curley clipped in a cross from the right and Reece King’s back-header bounced into a dangerous area, where Dan Sweeney collected the ball and prodded it over the line, despite the best efforts of Shields defender Gary Brown.
The Mariners’ response was good, with David Foley and Robert Briggs both having attempts at goal as they pushed for an equaliser.
However, the crucial second goal went the way of the hosts in the 20th minute.
Joe Fitzpatrick fizzed in a dangerous corner from the right and a fortuitous bounce sent the ball to Sweeney, whose effort was too powerful for Mason to stop on the line.
Shields were bidding to avoid a fifth defeat from seven away games in the league, and had it all to do in the final 70 minutes.
Hednesford did an effective job of maintaining their two-goal lead in the remainder of the first half, with the Mariners’ only real chance coming when Foley sliced wide after a ball over the top from Dillon Morse.
It could have been 3-0 before half-time when Dan Cockerline was played in on goal, but Liam Connell just got to the ball before him to keep him at bay.
Shields’ performance improved in the second half and they almost pulled one back when Foley fizzed an effort across goal from the left which went just past the post.
The Mariners went agonsingly close in the 66th minute as a Briggs free-kick from 20 yards sailed inches wide, but they did not have to wait much longer to get on the scoresheet.
Just two minutes later, Shields did get their goal as Mason touched the ball onto his right foot on the inside-left of the box before firing a terrific effort past Martinez in the Hednesford goal.
The Mariners were unable to generate any real momentum in their search for an equaliser, though, despite the best efforts of players including substitutes Carl Finnigan, Ben Harmison and Daniel Wright.
They will aim to bounce back on Tuesday when they travel to Hyde United in another league match.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams, Turnbull (Wright 78), Morse, Brown, Mouanda, Briggs (c), Gillies (Harmison 59), Mason, Foley (Finnigan 52). Subs not used: Hunter, Lough.
Goal: Mason (68).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.