A late goal by Josh Gillies saw South Shields edge an entertaining and hard-fought encounter with FC United of Manchester at 1st Cloud Arena.
Gillies struck seven minutes from the end after some great work by fellow substitute Will McCamley as the Mariners secured an important three points which they just about deserved on the balance of play.
The game was not quite the goal-fest which ensued between these sides in March, when Shields emerged 5-3 winners, but it remained a high-quality tussle full of action between two fine teams who will hope to again be battling it out at the top of the table this season.
Although it was a relatively even game it was Shields who created the better opportunities and their first sight of goal came in the ninth minute as Alex Kempster’s drive from distance was deflected wide.
Both sides were intent on playing attractive football and there was some end-to-end action, with the Reds going close on 13 minutes when Jordan Simpson’s powerful low effort from 20 yards went not far past Myles Boney’s post.
Jamie Sterry and Jack Hindle were making their first league appearances for Shields and they linked up well with Jason Gilchrist before Sterry found himself in space on the right of the box, but his dangerous cross was cut out just before Kempster could slide it home.
Gilchrist had netted three times in two appearances against his former club last season but suffered a frustrating night in front of goal on this occasion. His first opportunity came after the Mariners broke well and Callum Ross dinked the ball superbly into his path, but his effort was blocked.
He did force a save from Dan Lavercombe soon after as he fired goalwards from a tight angle, and Blair Adams also forced a good stop from the visiting goalkeeper after some bright play down the Shields left.
Boney was called into action twice in the closing stages of the first half but was not seriously troubled and it was the Mariners back in the ascendancy after the break.
Ross was the first to threaten the FC United goal with a decent run inside from the right which resulted in a left-foot shot which went not far past the post.
Kempster went closer still when, after receiving the ball from Robert Briggs with his back to goal, he flicked it three times before swivelling and hitting an effort which crashed against the post.
It was a lively period of the match which featured chances and half opportunities at both ends, with Shields’ best two openings falling to Gilchrist as he was twice played in on goal. Lavercombe was equal to his first effort and the striker pulled his second chance wide.
The Mariners continued to be frustrated when captain Jon Shaw’s header was cleared off the line and Briggs had two shots saved, while a low ball across the box by Gillies just evaded a touch as time started to slowly slip away.
The vital moment eventually arrived on 83 minutes as McCamley ghosted into some space in the box, turned well and forced a decent reaction stop by Lavercombe only for the ball to break to Gillies, who showed good composure to finish from close range.
Shields saw out the remainder of the 90 minutes well to claim a third consecutive clean sheet as they climbed to eighth in the table.
Next up is a home tie against Colne in the Buildbase FA Trophy on Saturday.
South Shields: Boney, Sterry, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Ross, Hindle (Gillies 55), Turnbull (Verstraaten 89), Gilchrist (McCamley 80), Briggs, Kempster. Subs not used: Coombe, Baxter.
Goal: Gillies (83).
Image: Kev Wilson.
Alex Kempster caught the eye with a second half brace as South Shields won for the second time in pre-season at Marske United on Saturday.
After a goalless first half, the Mariners scored four of the five goals netted after the break on a blustery August afternoon at Mount Pleasant.
Josh Gillies and Jason Gilchrist also found the net for the first time in pre-season as Shields secured a confidence-boosting result to step up their preparations for the new campaign.
The flurry of second half goals was in stark contrast to what had been seen before half-time, when chances had been few and far between.
Gilchrist tested home goalkeeper Ryan Catterick with a firm strike from the edge of the box and Will McCamley also forced a save from him, but there had been little quality shown in the final third at either end of the pitch.
That all changed in the second 45 minutes as Shields returned to the field with the bit between their teeth.
Half-time substitute Will Jenkins saw his half-volley palmed behind by Catterick and the resulting corner from Gillies bounced in the six-yard box before crossing the line, with the whip on the low delivery enough to deceive Catterick.
Marske’s response to falling behind was impressive, and after Curtis Round and Jack Blackford had drawn saves from Myles Boney, the hosts were awarded a penalty when Gary Brown tripped Louis Johnson.
Craig Gott sent Boney the wrong way from the spot to equalise as the game burst into life.
The home side had opportunities to go in front, most notably when a corner was caught by the wind and struck the crossbar, but it was to be Shields who dealt the next decisive blow.
Gillies picked out Kempster 25 yards from goal and he turned his man superbly before angling an effort into the corner of the net with his left foot.
It was Kempster’s first goal since joining Shields from York City in the summer and there was more yet to come.
He almost added a stunning second when he got on the end of a ball forward by Boney, flicked it over the defender with his head and sent a delicate lob just over, but he didn’t have too much longer to wait.
Gilchrist laid the ball off to him on the edge of the box and another pinpoint left-foot effort nestled in the bottom corner to double Shields’ advantage.
Gilchrist got in on the act himself towards the end when Robert Briggs found him with a brilliant pass over the top and he rounded Catterick before finishing with ease.
A further goal narrowly eluded Gilchrist as he fizzed a shot just past the post, with Shields’ new-found dominance continuing until the end.
The Mariners are back in action on Saturday when they take on Blyth Spartans at 1st Cloud Arena.
South Shields: Boney, Baxter (Hunter 62), Adams (Croft 83), Ross (Thompson 71), Morse (Verstraaten 46), Brown (Lockey 83), McCamley (Jenkins 46), Briggs (c), Gilchrist, Gillies, Kempster. Sub not used: Hodgson.
Goals: Gillies (51), Kempster (62, 76), Gilchrist (80).
South Shields opened up a 12 point lead at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division on a record-breaking and pulsating day at Mariners Park.
The Mariners defeated second-placed FC United 5-3 in a thrilling encounter in front of a crowd of 3,276, which broke the ground’s league attendance record.
It was a fully-deserved victory for Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side, who went ahead in the 21st minute as Jason Gilchrist found the net against his former club.
Shields’ first half dominance was rewarded with further goals in the latter stages of the half from Josh Gillies and Gilchrist, and they went into the half-time break with a huge amount of confidence.
FC United responded well in the early stages of the second half and pulled a goal back through the prolific Tunde Owolabi, only for Nathan Lowe to swiftly restore the three-goal advantage with a stunning drive from distance.
The end to the game was more fractured as the Mariners were forced to reshuffle three times because of injuries, with Owolabi adding two further goals to complete his hat-trick and give FC United some hope.
Between those strikes, though, Bali Mumba netted on his home debut for Shields to seal their victory and again boost their hopes of clinching promotion.
Full report to follow.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Baxter, Adams (Thompson 73), Shaw (c) (Ross 59), Verstraaten, Turnbull, Gillies, Briggs, Gilchrist (Mason 68), Lowe, Mumba. Subs not used: Jenkins, Gonzales.
Goals: Gilchrist (21, 45), Gillies (42), Lowe (52), Mumba (89).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.