A double from Nathan Lowe helped South Shields to a vital 3-1 win at Marine as they stayed within a point of Evo-Stik Premier Division leaders Farsley Celtic.
On a day which saw each of the division’s top four secure maximum points, the Mariners were made to work on Merseyside.
They recovered from slow starts to both halves to win comfortably in the end, with Liam Connell saving an early penalty before Lowe’s brace was added to by a goal from Lee Mason on a sunny afternoon in Liverpool.
Shields were dealt a blow on the eve of the game when David Foley – who was so influential in the previous week’s 4-0 win over Hyde United – was ruled out through illness.
Connor Bell replaced Foley in the starting line-up and the Mariners got off to a sluggish start, conceding a penalty after just three minutes as Danny Mitchley was fouled in the area.
Steven Irwin took the responsibility from the spot for the hosts but was thwarted by Connell as he dived low to his left and pushed the ball to safety.
It was a let-off for the Mariners but they did not immediately spring into action, and breathed another sigh of relief when a Dylan Sumner effort flashed wide.
As the first half wore on, Shields’ confidence grew and they fired their first warning when the lively Luke Daly worked himself into some space on the right of the area and pulled a ball inside to Bell, who shot into the side netting.
At the other end, captain Jon Shaw blocked from James Murray but forays forward by Marine were becoming increasingly rare.
Shields made the breakthrough in some style before the half-hour.
Lowe received the ball with his back to goal near the halfway line on the right and dropped his shoulder to get away from one defender before tricking his way past another and burying a 25 yard effort with his left foot.
Marine responded well and went close to equalising almost immediately when a shot from the right of the area by Mitchley was deflected onto the roof of the net.
Mason had two good opportunities to double the Mariners’ advantage before half-time, but saw his first effort blocked and blazed the second chance over.
The home side came out of the blocks well in the second half and almost levelled within a minute of the restart when Danny Shaw’s header from a corner crashed against the crossbar.
Mitchley was Marine’s biggest threat and he had a number of half-chances in the second half without seriously testing Connell.
Shields stretched their lead on the hour mark as Phil Turnbull clipped a ball into the left channel and Daly combined well with Bell before hooking in a tremendous cross which presented Mason with his easiest goal of the season as he converted from close range.
Marine should have pulled a goal back less than a minute later, but Murray blasted over from eight yards after a cross from the left.
Connell saved from Irwin before Shields made the points safe as Daly brilliantly beat his man on the right and brushed a deft pass into the feet of Lowe, who curled a superb shot into the bottom corner to double his tally for the afternoon.
Marine almost immediately got on the scoresheet themselves when, moments after Connell had tipped a Charley Edge free-kick onto the bar, Mitchley scrambled the ball over the line via a deflection.
It was too late for the hosts to force themselves back into contention, though, as the Mariners kept up their fine form.
With just six league games remaining, it’s still all to play for.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams (Lough 69), Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Lowe (Mouanda 86), Briggs, Mason (Cogdon 75), Daly, Bell. Subs not used: Guy, Gillies.
Goals: Lowe (29, 78), Mason (60).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields travel to Merseyside on Saturday knowing victory could see them return to the top of the Northern Premier League table.
Shields go into the trip to Marine one point behind leaders Farsley Celtic after bottom club North Ferriby United’s results were expunged last weekend following the club’s liquidation.
They are expecting a difficult game against a Marine team whose form has picked up dramatically since Christmas, but with just seven matches remaining, they know the importance of maximum points.
Joint manager Lee Picton wants his side to continue where they left off in last Saturday’s thumping 4-0 win over Hyde United.
He has been pleased with the Mariners’ form over recent weeks.
Picton said: “Going into last week’s game, the message to the players was about how close to perfect we can be in terms of the number of points we pick up, which is far easier said than done.
“Even a few weeks ago when we had a small patch of results which went against us we were really pleased with the levels of our general play.
“We’ve continued with that and if we can keep those levels where they have been over the last few weeks, we’ve got a great chance.
“I’m not saying we’re going to win 21 points out of 21, but if we play like we have been, there’s a possibility and we’ll get somewhere close.
“If that’s the case, it’s going to be really tight at the end of the season and we’ll give ourselves a chance.
“It’s going to be a big effort and everybody will need to contribute, but the possibilities are definitely there for us.”
Shields beat Marine 2-1 in the reverse fixture earlier this month and were pushed all the way in the second half.
Picton expects the Mariners will need to come up with a number of different ways to win over the coming weeks if they are to claim the one automatic promotion spot available.
He added: “We’re going to have to find more than one way to skin a cat because there will undoubtedly be a number of sets of conditions and circumstances that will come our way across the next seven games.
“We’re going to have to show different qualities and have different approaches, be adaptable and flexible to give ourselves the best chance of winning each individual game.
“I’ve been to Marine a few times in the past and it’s a tough place to go.
“They won again last Saturday and are a side who have really picked up their form over the last few weeks.
“It’s going to be a tough, tough game.”
Shields remain without long-term injured duo Barrie Smith and Carl Finnigan heading into Saturday’s 3pm kick-off, while Ben Harmison serves the second game of his three-match suspension.
South Shields make the journey to Merseyside on Saturday as they face Marine in an important Evo-Stik Premier Division fixture.
The Mariners head into the match knowing that, should results go their way, they could end the day top of the table.
They are expecting a difficult game against a team which has been rejuvenated since the turn of the year and pushed Shields all the way in a 2-1 defeat at Mariners Park earlier this month.
Ahead of the match at The Marine Travel Arena – which has a post code of L23 3AS – Marine have issued important information for visiting supporters.
There will be no segregation in place, but supporters are being asked to enter the ground at different entrances to ease congestion.
Admission to the ground for Shields supporters is recommended via turnstiles one and two on College Road, and for Marine supporters it is recommended via gates three and four, which are accessible via the car park to the front of the ground.
The turnstiles will open at 1.30pm and supporters are asked to arrive early to avoid congestion.
Admission prices are £10 for adults and £5 for senior citizens and children, while Under-11s go free with a paying adult.
The Graham Lounge will be closed to fans due to matchday hospitality.
All supporters are welcome in The Arriva Suite from 1.30pm, the entrance to which is inside the ground and not through the social club entrance in the car park. The Arriva Suite will then close at 4pm after half-time.
The Graham Lounge will be open for all after the game. Alcohol is not permitted in the stadium.
The club car park is reserved for ticket holders only. Parking is available on nearby side streets including Warwick Avenue, Woodville Avenue, Sunnyside Road, Jubilee Road and Rossett Road, but not on College Road, which will be restricted and monitored by traffic wardens. Parking is also available at Crosby Leisure Centre on Mariners Road. For sat navs, the postcode for Crosby Leisure Centre is L23 6SX.
Supporters coaches will drop off at the entrance to the ground.
Hot and cold food and drink will be available for all supporters in the ‘Galley’, which is located behind the main stand. There will be an additional food and drink counter in the Arriva Suite for all supporters. Food and drink will be open in the Arriva Suite until 4pm.
Toilets are located under the stand and at the top end of the ground (Crosender Road). Toilets will also be available in the clubrooms until 4pm.
Programmes will be on sale inside the ground, priced at £2.