A well-taken double by Jason Gilchrist sealed a vital three points for South Shields in their top-of-the-table clash at Lancaster City on Saturday.
Gilchrist twice put the Mariners ahead at Giant Axe and his 70th minute strike was enough to secure a 2-1 win which moved his side six points clear at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division.
Rob Wilson’s first half penalty had drawn the Dolly Blues level, but they were unable to repeat their November victory at Mariners Park as they lost ground in the title race.
Shields made no changes to the team which defeated Mickleover Sports 5-2 a week earlier and it took them just 12 minutes to take the lead.
Craig Baxter chipped a ball forward from deep inside the Shields half and it was flicked on by Sefton Gonzales to Gilchrist, who raced through and rounded goalkeeper Sam Ashton before directing a low effort narrowly over the line just as it appeared he had taken it too wide.
The Mariners had an opportunity to make it 2-0 midway through the first half when Gonzales found Nathan Lowe and he played it inside to Robert Briggs, who swept a shot wide from the edge of the box.
Craig Baxter bravely blocked from Lewis Fensome at the other end before Shields almost doubled their advantage when some space opened up for Lowe on the left of the area and his powerful left-foot strike was brilliantly saved by the foot of Ashton.
Lancaster’s equaliser came from the penalty spot after Gary Brown had fouled Fensome just as he appeared set to pull the trigger from six yards.
Wilson struck the spot-kick into the top corner as he sent Myles Boney the wrong way to level the table-topping contest.
Many in the ground thought Shields had gone back in front five minutes before half-time when Lowe’s curler from 20 yards went just past the post, but the sides went in at the break level.
Graham Fenton and Lee Picton – who were chasing a 150th win in charge of the Mariners – made a bold double substitution at the interval as Blair Adams and Wouter Verstraaten were introduced to the action.
It proved to be an inspired change as Shields showed considerable improvement in the second half. It was an improvement which would deliver a vital three points.
They always appeared to have the upper hand in the second half although opportunities were hard to come by, and it appeared certain the Mariners would need to be clinical if one did fall their way.
Twenty minutes from time, the key chance came. Brown lofted a ball forward which was held up by Gonzales and played back to Lowe, who placed a superb pass through to Gilchrist on the right of the box.
Gilchrist produced a superb one-touch finish across the goalkeeper to send the tremendous travelling support into raptures and make a crucial victory considerably more likely.
Shields needed to be resolute in the final stages as Lancaster attempted to launch a late onslaught with a series of long balls and set-pieces.
The team held firm as they saw out the victory to move six points ahead of their opponents at the top.
The Mariners are back in action on Tuesday when they take a break from league action with a home fixture against Stockton Town in the Durham Challenge Cup.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter (Adams 46), Baxter, Shaw (c), Brown, Turnbull, Thompson (Verstraaten 46), Briggs (Ross 77), Gilchrist, Lowe, Gonzales. Subs not used: Gillies, Mason.
Goals: Gilchrist (12, 70).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
The BetVictor Northern Premier Division’s top two go head-to-head on Saturday in a much-anticipated clash at Giant Axe.
South Shields travel to Lancaster City looking to avenge their 1-0 home loss to the Dolly Blues in November and know that a win would move them six points clear at the top.
The Mariners will remain at the summit unless Lancaster inflict at least a four-goal defeat on them at Giant Axe but they head to Lancashire aiming to put more daylight between themselves and the chasing pack.
Joint manager Graham Fenton said: “Everyone involved in football looks forward to these top-of-the-table games.
“To hold these league positions at this stage of the season shows both teams have been doing very well.
“It’s an added incentive for us that Lancaster came to Mariners and took all three points, so we’ll be looking to get one back on them this time.
“We go into the game in really good spirits and are looking to maintain our winning league form in 2020.”
Shields are expected to be backed by a strong travelling support as they bid to maintain their 100% start to 2020.
Their last outing saw them beat Mickleover Sports 5-2 in an entertaining match at Mariners Park last Saturday, with Tuesday’s Integro Cup trip to Dunston having been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
Fenton knows Lancaster will make life difficult for his side on Saturday, but insists Shields are relishing the test.
He added: “I’m sure it will be a tough game in testing conditions but as always our lads are really looking forward to the challenge and hopefully we can come out with a positive result.
“We have no fresh injury worries from last week so we will have a few selection issues in terms of the team and the squad, which is fantastic to have at this stage of the season.
“Lancaster have a particularly good home record and we know it’s going to be tough.
“We’re not going to be given anything so we’ll have to earn everything we get, but hopefully we can come out on top.”
Shields will remain without the injured Luke Daly (knee) and Ross Coombe (finger) ahead of Saturday’s 3pm kick-off at Giant Axe, which has a post code of LA1 5PE.
Admission prices are £10 for adults, £7 for students and concessions, £5 for those aged 14 to 17 and free for under-14s accompanied by an adult.
Lancaster City cut South Shields’ lead at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division to two points as David Norris’ second half goal proved the difference at Mariners Park.
Shields played well for large periods of the game and will feel unfortunate to have lost, but Lancaster showed impressive resolve to strike first and hold on in the closing stages as they extended their unbeaten run to eight.
The Mariners saw their winless run in the league stretch to three matches but they will be able to take plenty of positives into next Saturday’s Buildbase FA Trophy tie against AFC Rushden and Diamonds.
They created several more clear-cut opportunities than they did in their previous league outing – a 1-1 draw with Grantham Town – and demonstrated improved positivity on the ball as they probed for a goal, but ultimately they could not find a way through.
Shields were positive from the outset as they made their intentions clear, and went close to opening the scoring as early as the fifth minute when Robert Briggs whipped in a free-kick from the left and Jon Shaw’s header was well saved by Lancaster goalkeeper Sam Ashton.
Less than a minute later Ashton was pressured by Nathan Lowe as he prepared to clear the ball and his clearance cannoned against the Shields midfielder before bouncing wide.
Lancaster are one of the league’s most-improved sides this season, and created their first chance on 10 minutes when Paul Dawson fired goalwards only to be denied by a block from Adam Thurston.
Shields blocked a further effort from Dawson from the resulting corner before the hosts started to turn the screw again.
They went agonisingly close to the breakthrough when Ashton raced out from his goal to clear the ball on the right flank only to direct it straight to Briggs, whose brilliant effort from distance was incredibly cleared off the line by Lancaster captain Glenn Steel.
Jason Gilchrist had a number of efforts at goal in the first half and the closest he came to scoring followed a series of twists and turns outside the area before he drilled a low effort which Ashton did well to hold.
The Mariners went close again as Jordan Hunter got in down the right and fizzed in a dangerous low cross which was headed past the post by a defender.
A further opportunity came and went as Shields worked the ball impressively down the left and Blair Adams’ cross was headed over by Thurston at the back post.
Shields will have felt confident going into the second half and almost took the lead just after the hour.
Phil Turnbull jinked his way in down the left of the box and delivered a low cross which Gilchrist met first time and his effort was deflected onto the post.
At the other end, Myles Boney saved a shot from distance by Robert Wilson before Lancaster took the lead against the run of play as Samuel Bailey’s corner from the left was headed back across the area and hooked in by former Ipswich Town man Norris from close range.
The visitors almost made it a quickfire double as Hunter was forced to clear off the line from Wilson but Shields quickly regained their composure as they probed for an equaliser.
Gilchrist hooked a shot wide, Dillon Morse had a powerful effort tipped over by Ashton and Briggs blasted wide from distance.
Substitute Craig Baxter went close as he fired goalwards from the edge of the box and the ball was deflected just past the post, and Gilchrist went closest when he directed a header from a Lowe corner towards the bottom corner, only for Ashton to make a superb save.
It simply proved to be one of those days for the Mariners as they were agonisingly kept off the scoresheet.
They will hope to have better fortune in front of goal when they welcome AFC Rushden and Diamonds next Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter (Baxter 85), Adams, Turnbull, Morse, Brown, Thurston, Briggs (Odelusi 75), Gilchrist, Lowe, Shaw (c). Subs not used: Charlton, Wokoma, Jenkins.
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.