South Shields survived a spirited Mickleover Sports fightback as a double from Sefton Gonzales helped them to a thrilling 5-2 win at Mariners Park.
First half goals from Arron Thompson and Nathan Lowe were cancelled out in five second half minutes by the visitors, who had won their previous three league matches.
Shields recovered brilliantly from that setback, though, with Gonzales striking his first two goals for the club late on while Jason Gilchrist also got on the scoresheet.
The result ensured the Mariners remained three points clear of Lancaster City at the top.
It was a testing afternoon for both sides in blustery conditions but Shields quickly seized control and thought they had taken the lead in the 13th minute when Gonzales bundled in a right-wing cross from Craig Baxter.
The goal was ruled out, though, after the referee adjudged Gonzales had fouled Mickleover goalkeeper Elias Rouse, much to Shields’ frustration.
The wind meant both goalkeepers had to be on high alert, particularly to the danger of efforts from long range, and Myles Boney showed he was up to the task when he kept out a strike from Ricky Ravenhill.
The Mariners broke the deadlock midway through the first half as Thompson netted his first senior goal for the club.
He drifted in a cross from the right which Gonzales tried to get on the end of before the ball dropped into a dangerous area, with Rouse unable to prevent it finding the bottom corner. Many suspected Gonzales had got a touch on the cross but he later confirmed he hadn’t, leaving Thompson to celebrate his first goal.
Shields were pressing their opponents brilliantly and carved Mickleover open again within two minutes of the restart before Baxter fired well over from the edge of the box.
The second goal arrived in stunning fashion on 32 minutes as Lowe received the ball back from a short corner before curling a fantastic effort into the top corner from the left, leaving Rouse with no chance.
The Mariners thought they had scored a third on the stroke of half-time after some sublime skill by Thompson and a composed finish from Gilchrist, but the flag went up for offside.
Shields appeared in complete control and had opportunities to go three goals up in the early stages of the second half.
Gilchrist flicked the ball wide after a terrific pass from Gonzales and saw a further shot saved by Rouse, who also produced a tremendous fingertip stop to deny Baxter.
Mickleover began to threaten a comeback after that but struggled to breach the Shields backline, with Boney saving a mis-hit effort from Greg Young, Gary Brown denying Stuart Beavon with a superb block and Thompson also blocking from the same player.
Shields’ threat was still there at the other end and they almost put the game to bed when Lowe dinked an effort just wide after impressive link-up with Gilchrist, while Robert Briggs also had a shot blocked.
A six-minute spell from the visitors stunned the Mariners as the scores were levelled heading into the closing stages.
After Andrew Wright had fired just over from the right of the area, Mickleover pulled one back as Patrick Webb headed in from close range following a Boney save from Beavon.
The equaliser came from a left-wing corner which dropped to Wright on the right of the box before he lashed the ball home.
Shields’ response was emphatic, though, as the crowd got fully behind their team.
Substitute Blair Adams delivered a terrific cross from the right and a controlled overhead kick from Gonzales found the bottom corner as he registered his first goal for the club before celebrating with a backflip.
Mariners Park erupted again 12 minutes before the end as Shields restored their two-goal lead when Lowe delivered a magnificent free-kick from deep on the left which was delicately touched home by Gilchrist for his 12th goal in 12 games.
Gonzales put the seal on it in the 89th minute as he headed home at the back post following some superb play on the left by Lowe, who was a menace throughout.
It turned into a terrific win for the Mariners ahead of Tuesday’s Integro Cup trip to Dunston and a vital league fixture at second-placed Lancaster City next Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Baxter (Adams 66), Shaw (c), Brown, Turnbull (Ross 77), Thompson, Briggs (Verstraaten 66), Gilchrist, Lowe, Gonzales. Subs not used: Morse, Mason.
Goals: Thompson (22), Lowe (32), Gonzales (75, 89), Gilchrist (78).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields begin the second half of their league campaign when they take on Mickleover Sports at Mariners Park on Saturday.
Shields are top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division on 45 points from 21 games, which is a figure they are looking to at least match in the second half of the season.
Joint manager Lee Picton believes if they achieve that, the Mariners will be tough to catch.
He said: “This is the first game of the second half of our league campaign and it’s important we keep our standards high.
“We amassed 45 points from the first 21 games and I firmly believe that if we can match or better that points haul we will be extremely difficult to surpass.
“To get three points on the board on Saturday would be a great start for us.”
Mickleover are 10th in the table having won their last three games, with both sides on an impressive run of form.
Shields have also won their last three matches in all competitions, with their most recent win coming on Wednesday in the Durham Challenge Cup against Billingham Town.
That was a game which saw Blair Adams, Josh Gillies and Dillon Morse return to action while Callum Ross made his debut in midfield.
Picton and Graham Fenton have been left with several selection dilemmas, but they are headaches which are being relished.
Picton added: “We’re going to have to make some really tough choices on team and squad selection.
“The return of the likes of Dillon Morse, Josh Gillies and Blair Adams, plus the additions of Callum Ross, Wouter Verstraaten and Sefton Gonzales, undoubtedly gives us a completely different look to our squad compared to previous weeks.
“It’s a dilemma we’ve craved but one thing is for sure, nobody’s place in our team – or squad for that matter – is guaranteed with such high competition for places.
“Hopefully that will bring out the absolute best in our players and help drive consistently high levels of performance, which is obviously what we require in order to finish where we want to at the end of the season.”
Shields will be without Luke Daly on Saturday after he was forced off in Wednesday’s Durham Challenge Cup win over Billingham Town with a knee injury. It was Daly’s comeback match from a five-month lay-off from a previous knee injury, but Shields do not yet know how long he will be on the sidelines this time.
The Mariners will also be without goalkeeper Ross Coombe.
Kick-off is at 3pm and admission prices – which can be paid at the turnstiles – are £10 for adults, £8 for over-65s and £3 for under-16s.
Students can enter for the discounted price of £5 if they show their student ID at the turnstiles, and will also receive a voucher for a free pie.
Ticket discounts are available before midnight on Friday by clicking here.
Season ticket holders, meanwhile, can claim a voucher for a free pint of draught lager, cider, craft ale or a soft drink if they enter Mariners Park before 1.30pm.
The turnstiles will open at 12.30pm and the usual Happy Hours will apply from 12.30pm to 1.30pm, and 5pm to 6pm.
Supporters who attend the game should keep hold of their ticket as if they bring it along to the match against Witton Albion on Saturday, January 25 before 1.30pm, they will be able to get into that game half price.
Supporters will be able to take advantage of a number of initiatives at the next two league games held at Mariners Park.
All season ticket holders who enter the ground before 1.30pm ahead of Saturday’s match against Mickleover Sports will receive a voucher for a free pint of the draught lager, cider or craft ale of their choice, or a soft drink. The vouchers must be redeemed before 1.30pm.
Students will also be able to claim a free pie at Saturday’s game, along with a significant ticket discount.
Bring your student ID along and show it at the turnstiles to receive your voucher for a free pie, which can be claimed from one of our kiosks. You’ll also be able to get your match ticket discounted to £5, representing a saving of £3!
Meanwhile, anyone who buys a ticket in advance of Saturday’s match, or who receives a ticket at the turnstiles, is encouraged to keep hold of it.
If you then come along to the Witton Albion game on Saturday, January 25 and present your Mickleover ticket at the turnstiles before 1.30pm, you’ll be able to buy a ticket for the Witton match for half-price.
You can already buy discounted tickets for the Mickleover game by clicking here.
Please get behind the lads at such an important stage of the season as they aim to maintain their place at the top of the table. Your support truly could make all the difference.
Please also continue to spread the word and let’s get as many people along to Mariners Park as possible for the remaining fixtures. Bring a friend and double the crowd!