Darius Osei headed in a second half winner as South Shields moved level on points with Matlock Town by defeating the Pitching In Northern Premier League leaders 1-0 at the Proctor Cars Stadium.
The Mariners produced a superb team performance to deservedly claim the victory, ending Matlock’s 100% home record in the process.
They had to show patience until Osei provided the breakthrough and although the Gladiators attempted to build pressure in search of an equaliser in the closing stages, Shields held out for maximum points.
Graham Fenton’s side went into the game full of confidence after ending a three-match winless run by beating neighbours Morpeth Town 2-0 four days earlier.
They demonstrated that belief from the off in Derbyshire, despite being without Robert Briggs after the long-serving midfielder tested positive for COVID-19. Briggs was replaced in the starting line-up by Jack Bodenham as Shields fielded a back five.
The away side almost opened the scoring less than two minutes in, with Osei scampering down the right of the box and firing in a low cross which strike partner Alex Kempster slammed against the near post.
Shields established control and began peppering the Matlock goal. Osei again showed his strength before seeing a low drive pushed away by goalkeeper Shaun Rowley, who also cut out a dangerous low cross from Kempster minutes later.
Matlock had their first sight of goal midway through the first half when Callum Chippendale turned the ball over after a corner was half-cleared, but the Mariners largely kept their hosts at arm’s length and looked far more threatening themselves.
They had a glorious opportunity to take the lead as Conor Tee – who was a menace throughout – capitalised on a loose ball and squared it to Kempster, who blazed over from close range.
Kempster was unperturbed by that miss and almost created the opening goal with a tremendous whipped cross which Tee connected with well at the back post. Rowley sprung into action to palm his header wide.
The resulting corner was clipped in by Nathan Lowe and met by Callum Ross, but Rowley again denied the Mariners by diving to his right to tip the ball over.
Half-time was fast approaching and Shields were in danger of not capitalising on their domination before the break. They had one further half-chance to take the lead when Kempster burst in down the right and tried to pick out Osei, only for a last-ditch interception to deny him a clean strike.
Matlock provided a more potent threat after the interval, but the Mariners were on the front foot initially and fired another warning as a drilled cross by Osei flashed across the face of goal, with no player on hand to tap it home.
Kempster saw a strong penalty appeal waved away after being challenged in the area before Shields faced a scare at the other end as Jamie Cooke fired goalwards. Jon Shaw got his body in the way to block and the away team’s response to that close shave was immediate.
Tee fed Dan Martin down the right of the area and his low drive was blocked by Ioan Evans, with the ball bouncing away for a corner. It proved a pre-cursor for the game’s defining moment.
Lowe played the set-piece short and then gave it back to Martin, whose cross was nodded on by Bodenham to Osei. He directed his header past Rowley and into the bottom corner to spark jubilant celebrations and provide Shields with the goal their play deserved.
Shaw almost doubled Shields’ lead when he met Lowe’s corner at the near post, but a block denied him.
Matlock had won all seven of their home matches prior to this one and provided a demonstration of why they have enjoyed such a strong start to the campaign by putting pressure on their visitors in the final 10 minutes.
They won a series of set-pieces in dangerous areas which the Mariners were equal to as they defended their advantage stoically.
Shields largely kept them at bay until the 82nd minute, when a superb cross from the right landed on the head of the towering Liam Hughes, whose effort went just past the post.
There was another scare for the away side four minutes later as Cooke smashed a shot which struck Lowe on the line and sparked appeals for handball, which the referee turned down as the ball had hit the Shields midfielder on the chest.
The Mariners breathed a final sigh of relief with a minute remaining when a long throw from the left bounced in the area. Blair Adams hacked the ball clear and Shields advanced to the other end of the pitch as they continued to protect their lead.
There was no way back at that stage for Matlock as the Mariners saw out three minutes of stoppage time to seal a crucial victory.
Fenton’s men now have a midweek without a game before returning to action at home to third-placed Buxton next Saturday.
Shields are now level on points with Matlock at the top of the table, with the Gladiators remaining at the summit courtesy of their goal difference, which is two goals better than the Mariners’.
South Shields: Boney, Martin, Adams (c), Shaw, Morse, Bodenham, Tee, Ross, Osei, Lowe, Kempster. Subs not used: Steavens, McGowan, Rossiter, Stead, Hodgson.
Goal: Osei (62).
Image: Kev Wilson.
The Pitching In Northern Premier League’s top two go head-to-head on Saturday when South Shields travel to leaders Matlock Town.
The Mariners will be looking to end their opponents’ 100% home record, with Matlock having won all seven of their matches at Proctors Cars Stadium so far this season.
That sequence of results has helped the Gladiators open up a three-point lead at the top of the table, but Shields’ 2-0 victory over neighbours Morpeth Town on Tuesday kept them within shooting distance.
They trail Matlock by three points and would require a three-goal victory to leapfrog their hosts after what is both sides’ 16th game of the season.
Any win would be more than satisfactory for the Mariners, of course, as they aim to gather momentum during what is a hectic and difficult run of fixtures.
It could prove to be a crucial period for Graham Fenton’s side, who face third-placed Buxton next Saturday.
For now, their full focus is on Matlock and that bid to end their perfect record on home soil.
Fenton said: “It’s going to be tough.
“We’ve had them watched a couple of times, as I’m sure they will have with us.
“They’ve got a certain brand of football and won’t be easy to play against, but I’m sure it’ll be a highly competitive game and we’ll be trying our best to get three points out of it.”
Shields lost top spot after a run of three games without a win before bouncing back against Morpeth in midweek.
It was a controlled performance from the Mariners which yielded maximum points thanks to superbly taken goals in the second half from Nathan Lowe and Sam Hodgson.
Both players drew strong praise from Fenton.
He added: “Nathan’s whole performance was good on Tuesday.
“Since his injury at Scarborough at the end of August he has been a bit frustrated because he hasn’t had the amount of minutes he’d have liked.
“He had to wait for his opportunity and has worked hard in the background, and he was excellent on Tuesday.
“It wasn’t just his finish for the goal. It was his driving runs, his general quality and how he held his discipline during some pressurised moments.”
On Hodgson, Fenton said: “He deserved his opportunity and was looking very sharp in training.
“If the lads aren’t playing, all they can do is really stand out in training and give themselves the best opportunity, and that’s certainly what Sam did.”
Shields are expecting to have captain Blair Adams available on Saturday after he limped off late in Tuesday’s game with cramp.
They remain without Jordan Hunter (arm), Will Jenkins (leg), Joao Gomes (knee) and Ntumba Massanka (suspended) heading into the 3pm kick-off at Proctors Cars Stadium, which has a post code of DE4 3AR.
Admission prices are £10 for adults, £6.50 for concessions, £5 for students, £3 for children aged between 10 and 18, free for children aged under 10 and free for those with a valid NHS ID.
Those who are not able to make it to the game can listen to live commentary from Ronnie Peet and Geoff Main on the Mariners Live Mixlr channel. Click here to access Saturday’s commentary.
South Shields suffered a sucker punch as a late header by Alex Byrne condemned them to a 1-0 home defeat against Matlock Town in the Pitching In Northern Premier League.
After dominating possession throughout the match but failing to make the breakthrough, the Mariners conceded 19 minutes from the end as they were beaten for the second time this season.
In the rarest of occurrences in the first half, Robert Briggs missed the target with a penalty and that summed up Shields’ afternoon after much promising build-up play but no vital killer touch.
Shields had 72% of the ball after lining up in a 3-5-2 formation, with both Blair Adams and Jon Shaw ruled out through injury.
Jordan Hunter and Josh Gillies were the two players introduced to the starting line-up and the Mariners started brightly enough before being awarded a penalty within the first 15 minutes as Jason Gilchrist was tripped in the area.
When Briggs steps up to take a spot-kick the outcome is often considered little more than a formality, such is his excellent record from 12 yards.
This time, however, accuracy evaded the stand-in centre-back as his penalty struck the outside of the post, much to the surprise of the 300 supporters in attendance.
Shields continued to probe well and advanced into threatening positions on numerous occasions, although their final pass did not always reach the intended target.
Hunter had a decent opportunity when Dillon Morse played him in down the side of the area, but the right-back’s powerful drive cleared the crossbar of Matlock goalkeeper Shaun Rowley, who the Mariners will feel was not tested enough over the 90 minutes.
Gillies had an effort blocked, a low cross from Hunter just evaded a vital touch and Alex Kempster headed narrowly wide from a Callum Ross cross as Shields aimed to capitalise on their dominance of the ball, but they had a scare at the other end as first half substitute Joe Bunney found the net for Matlock, only to be correctly denied by the offside flag.
The Mariners’ momentum had faltered in the closing stages of the opening 45 minutes but they re-found it at the start of the second half.
Phil Turnbull was the first to go close as he targeted his first goal for the club, but his strike from outside the area was well saved by Rowley.
Rowley also did well to keep out a free-kick from the left by Briggs, who tried to catch out the goalkeeper at his near post only for the Matlock stopper to get down well and palm it wide.
Shields were knocking at the door and went close twice more as Gilchrist headed over from a Turnbull cross and a delivery from the right by Morse just cleared the crossbar.
This was Rowley’s busiest period of the match and he was called into action again to tip a Gillies shot from distance wide, before then making a superb reaction save when Hunter’s cross fizzed towards goal after a deflection.
The goal was not forthcoming for the home side and, when Matlock launched a rare attack with 19 minutes left, there was an air of inevitability about it.
The Gladiators broke down the left and a dangerous ball into the box was met by an equally impressive run and header from Byrne, who guided it into the corner of the net via the post to give his side even more to cling onto.
They remained resolute despite more Shields pressure in the closing stages, with Gilchrist heading their first chance of an equaliser wide as he got on the end of a Kempster free-kick.
Hunter went close to levelling things up as his drive from 20 yards was tipped over, but the best opportunity arguably fell the way of Dillon Morse, who headed wide from an excellent cross by debutant Ciaren Jones.
There were two further chances deep into stoppage time, but Gilchrist’s header from another Kempster cross went just past the post before Kempster himself sent the ball inches wide from a Hunter cross.
It ultimately proved to be a day when any amount of possession, territory and chances would seemingly not have been enough for Shields, who will aim to bounce back when they host Morpeth Town on Tuesday.
South Shields: Boney, Hunter, Baxter (Jones 77), Ross, Morse, Turnbull, Gillies (McCamley 70), Briggs (c), Gilchrist, Osei, Kempster. Subs not used: Agnew, Verstraaten, Jenkins.
Image: Kev Wilson.