South Shields suffered a rare home defeat as promotion rivals Scarborough Athletic impressed on their way to a 3-1 win at Mariners Park on New Year’s Day.
The Mariners were dealt their first home league loss since November 2016 as they were overtaken at the top of the Evo-Stik North Division.
Shields convincingly won twice at Scarborough’s Flamingo Land Stadium earlier in the season, but Boro got their revenge in this top of the table clash.
Their victory came despite a decent start from the Mariners, with Matty Pattison and Michael Richardson going close in the early stages.
Scarborough delivered a warning as to the quality they possess when Michael Coulson flashed an effort narrowly over in the 10th minute.
They improved from there, and almost opened the scoring when the ball broke to James Walshaw in an excellent position, but he was denied by a tremendous block from Jon Shaw.
Liam Connell did well to push a cross from David Merris over the bar before he conceded a penalty just after the half-hour mark after a loose Craig Baxter header was pounced on by Coulson.
Coulson stepped up to send Connell the wrong way from the spot as the visitors took the lead.
Both sides had half chances before Boro went two up six minutes before half-time as Nathan Valentine powerfully headed a Coulson set piece into the bottom corner.
Things almost went from bad to worse for the hosts when the ball again broke to Walshaw in the box, but this time his effort was deflected against the post as Shields breathed a sigh of relief.
The Mariners were brighter at the start of the second half, but suffered a body blow when Max Wright headed in a left wing cross from Lewis Sugden to put the Seadogs three ahead.
Shields battled for a way back into the game and almost pulled a goal back when substitute Carl Finnigan fired just past the post in the 63rd minute.
However, they struggled to break their visitors down, with Graeme Armstrong heading a decent chance over towards the end.
Shields did score a consolation in stoppage time thanks to a good control and finish from Jamie Holmes, but the damage was already done.
They are now second in the table, one point behind new leaders Prescot Cables and level on points with Scarborough.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Smith (Finnigan 46), Pattison, Cogdon, Richardson (Armstrong 58), Holmes. Subs not used: Storey, Callaghan, Nicholson.
Goal: Holmes (90+2).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields stretched their lead at the top of the table to four points as they got the better of Ramsbottom United in a tough encounter on Saturday.
The Mariners won 3-2 in Lancashire in a match which became nervy in the latter stages as they moved onto the 40-point mark after 15 games.
Ramsbottom twice halved a two-goal deficit in the second half, but strikes from Louis Storey, Jamie Holmes and Carl Finnigan proved to be enough for Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side.
Shields were missing several first-team regulars, with the likes of Julio Arca, Anthony Callaghan, Darren Lough, Michael Richardson and Gavin Cogdon unavailable.
Striker Graeme Armstrong started just a day after completing a move to the club from Spennymoor Town, and he battled well as he helped his new team to maximum points.
The Mariners started strongly, and their first sights of goal saw Robert Briggs twice denied by blocks.
He was to play a key role in the opener, which arrived in the 14th minute, as his free-kick from the left was nodded towards goal by Dillon Morse and prodded in from close range by Storey.
Ramsbottom struggled to make an impact at the top end of the pitch in the early stages, but Philip Dean tested Liam Connell with a low effort from the edge of the box which took an awkward bounce.
It was a testing playing surface for both teams to cope with, but the Mariners rolled up their sleeves to take control.
They went close to doubling their advantage just after the half-hour mark after some superb play by Holmes as he dribbled past a number of players before the ball was worked to Andrew Stephenson, who struck the foot of the post with a shot across goal.
The hosts could have equalised shortly afterwards as they countered from a Shields corner.
Connell was beaten in a foot race with Dean on the left and was left stranded, but the Ramsbottom midfielder’s pass across the box was well cut out by makeshift left-back Matty Pattison.
Outfield player Ben Richardson was forced to go in goal for the home side late in the first half when goalkeeper Danny Taberner was forced off with an injury.
He performed well, but was beaten by an Armstrong header which went past the post in the 43rd minute.
Shields’ second goal arrived seven minutes into the second half when Briggs picked out Stephenson on the right and his excellent delivery was chested down by Holmes, who then hit an effort which struck defender Jacques Kpohomouh before finding the net.
Holmes had an excellent game and almost scored again when he smashed an effort towards a sea of bodies which Richardson managed to push to safety.
Ramsbottom were given a route back into the game when an impressive cross from the left was headed in by substitute Sam Heathcoate in the 64th minute.
But it took just nine minutes for Shields’ two-goal advantage to be restored as Briggs played a superb ball to Finnigan, who got it out of his feet before beating Richardson with a calm finish.
Holmes continued to be a thorn in the hosts’ side, and could have made it four when he beat two defenders with some great skill and fired just over.
Heathcoate again gave Ramsbottom a lifeline when he was found by a defence-splitting pass and then hit a first-time finish to beat Connell.
Despite some nervy moments in the Shields penalty area, though, Connell would not be beaten again as an important three points were claimed by the Mariners.
They are next in action on Saturday, with Tadcaster Albion the visitors to Mariners Park for another league game.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Pattison, Shaw (c), Morse, Storey, Stephenson (Scott 65), Briggs, Armstrong (Sullivan 79), Finnigan, Holmes. Subs not used: Norton, Smith, Guy.
Goals: Storey (14), Holmes (52), Finnigan (73).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
Robert Briggs starred again as South Shields beat Atherton Collieries 3-1 in a hard-fought EVO-STIK North encounter on Saturday.
Four days on from scoring twice against Farsley Celtic to help the Mariners to a thrilling 4-3 Buildbase FA Trophy win, Briggs scored another brace at Mariners Park.
Both were sublime finishes from long range, either side of a Glenn Matthews equaliser for the visitors.
Shields had to wait until second half stoppage time to wrap up the points and ensure they stayed level with Bamber Bridge at the top of the table, with Jamie Holmes picking out the bottom corner from a Briggs free-kick.
The Mariners now have a week to prepare for the trip to Stafford Rangers in the second qualifying round of the FA Trophy.
They went into the Atherton game without a number of key players, including Julio Arca, Jon Shaw and Matty Pattison.
It did not prove to be a vintage performance from Shields, who had their first sight of goal in the 11th minute when captain Barrie Smith brought the ball in from the left before shooting not far wide.
Michael Richardson had a number of efforts in the first half as the Mariners looked to break the deadlock.
The first came on 21 minutes when Carl Finnigan got in behind on the inside-right of the box, and when Richardson met his cut-back, his shot was deflected against the post.
Darren Lough saw a 25-yard drive parried by Colls goalkeeper Adam Reid, who was beaten nine minutes before half-time when Richardson pulled an effort across goal, only to see it go narrowly past the post.
The Mariners were building some good pressure leading up to the interval, and went close again when a superb through ball from Smith found Finnigan, but Reid did well to close the angle and make the save.
He was powerless to prevent Shields opening the scoring on 43 minutes, though.
The home side kept the ball well and moved it from side to side before it was played back to Briggs 25 yards out. There appeared to be little on, but he took a touch and then buried a stunning effort via the crossbar, later insisting that it was definitely a shot rather than a cross.
Shields could have extended their lead before the break, but Cogdon was just unable to get on the end of a loose ball before Reid, while Richardson narrowly failed to convert a right-wing cross by Alex Nicholson.
Just 20 seconds into the second half, Finnigan went close to adding the Mariners’ second when he turned and fired in a shot from just inside the box, but Reid was equal to his effort.
Atherton countered and caught Shields unawares, with the hosts unable to clear their lines. Half-time substitute Glenn Matthews pounced and directed a low effort beyond Liam Connell and into the bottom corner to equalise.
The Colls now had their tails up, and the dangerous Darrhyl Mason could have put them ahead when he dribbled into a shooting position and then curled a shot a few yards wide.
The away side were now showing much more attacking intent than they had in the first half, and they went close again when Mason got in behind on the left of the box, and his shot was well saved by Connell.
Shields needed something to settle their nerves, and got just that as the game ticked towards the hour mark.
Cogdon was fouled 25 yards out and Briggs curled home an outstanding free-kick, giving Reid no chance.
The Mariners had a golden opportunity to just about put the game to bed when Cogdon got to a ball ahead of Reid and, when bearing down on goal, had his ankles clipped, with referee Helen Conley pointing to the spot.
However, Finnigan was unable to continue his perfect penalty record with Shields as Reid got a strong hand to his spot-kick and the Colls got the ball clear.
Shields had other chances to seal the points, but Reid again kept Atherton in the game when he denied substitute Andrew Stephenson, who had been played in by Cogdon.
Lough was another player frustrated by Reid as he led a strong counter-attack, with his eventual effort pushed wide by the goalkeeper.
As the game went into the final 10 minutes, the visitors committed more men forward, and they were almost rewarded when Ben Hardcastle found himself in some space on the inside-right of the box, but Connell made a brilliant save with his foot to deny him.
It was not until three minutes into stoppage time that Shields could breathe more easily. Briggs floated in a free-kick from 30 yards and Reid parried from Finnigan, who retrieved the ball and laid it off for substitute Holmes, who stroked it into the bottom corner.
The Colls were still determined not to go down without a fight, and had time to go agonisingly close to scoring their second of the game when Hardcastle’s effort from the edge of the box curled inches past the post.
The Lancashire-based side had really made Shields work for the three points, but the home side got there in the end to send the crowd of almost 1,800 home happy.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Nicholson, Callaghan (Stephenson 44), Lough, Morse, Storey, Smith (c) (Holmes 59), Briggs, Cogdon (Sullivan 82), Richardson, Finnigan. Subs not used: Norton, Baxter.
Goals: Briggs (43, 58), Holmes (90+3).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.