Ben Harmison was at the double as South Shields strengthened their promotion hopes with a confident 3-1 win at Mickleover Sports on Saturday.
Craig Baxter opened the scoring early on for the Mariners and Harmison made the points safe with a goal in each half.
Mickleover pulled one back towards the end but were unable to force their way back into contention as Shields closed the gap at the top of the table to seven points, having played a game less than the top two.
They were dealt a double blow in the build-up to the trip to relegation-battling Mickleover, with Nathan Lowe and Connor Bell both ruled out with injuries.
And it was Sports who created the first opportunity, with a sweeping move leading to a shot from Shaquille McDonald which arrowed wide.
Shields asserted their dominance after that and took the lead on eight minutes.
After some intricate play on the left, Luke Daly played the ball across to Baxter, who nipped in front of his man, took a touch and buried an effort from the edge of the box into the bottom corner.
Mickleover were off target with two attempts from long range before Shields truly began to dominate, creating a number of good chances.
Lee Mason played an impressive disguised pass through to David Foley, but goalkeeper Lewis King closed the angle well to make the save.
More eye-catching football from the Mariners led to Robert Briggs playing in Foley and he looked certain to score, only for the ball to take a bobble, with Foley’s shot clearing the crossbar.
Shields were frustrated again when a brilliant 25 yard free-kick from Briggs beat King but struck the inside of the post before somehow bouncing to safety.
Less than a minute later, though, the Mariners did double their advantage.
Blair Adams came inside from the left channel and fizzed in a low shot which King parried to the feet of Harmison, who converted into an open goal from close range.
Harmison was one of a number of Shields players who proved to be a constant threat as Mickleover’s backline was kept busy.
However, the hosts almost pulled a goal back out of nothing three minutes before half-time as Nathan Jarman tried to catch out Liam Connell from distance, but the Shields goalkeeper pulled off a superb one-handed save to preserve the two-goal lead.
That could have been extended before half-time when a Briggs free-kick dropped to the feet of Harmison after some uncertainty at the back, only for King to react well to make the save.
He also saved from Foley before the break as Sports were given an opportunity to regroup.
Chances were harder to come by for the Mariners in the second half but they all but made the win safe on 58 minutes when Foley drove down the left and dug out a cross which Harmison stretched to turn home at the back post.
King kept Phil Turnbull off the scoresheet as he beat away his long-range effort before Mickleover almost pulled a goal back when substitute Jimmy Phillips weaved his way through and hit a goalbound effort which Shields captain Jon Shaw had to clear off the line.
Sports did get themselves a goal nine minutes before the end, with a corner from the left falling to the feet of substitute Tomas Junek, who squeezed an effort over the line from just inside the box.
The closest they came to a second was a 25 yard free-kick from Mason Warren which was deflected wide, before Durrell Berry headed a presentable opportunity over from the resulting corner.
Shields saw out the rest of the game to seal an important three points on a day which saw Farsley Celtic overtake Warrington Town at the top following the Yellows’ shock home defeat by Stafford Rangers.
The Mariners’ game in hand on the pair comes on Tuesday when they host Marine.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter (Mouanda 82), Adams (Lough 75), Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Mason (Gillies 61), Briggs, Harmison, Daly, Foley. Subs not used: Thompson, Cogdon.
Goals: Baxter (8), Harmison (26, 58).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields travel to Mickleover Sports on Saturday as they bid to strengthen their hopes of winning promotion from the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
A pitch inspection will be held at 9am on the day of the game to decide if it can go ahead.
A 1-1 draw against Buxton last Saturday saw the Mariners fall eight points behind leaders Warrington Town, although they have a game in hand.
It is therefore imperative they return to winning ways in Derbyshire against a Mickleover side which pushed them all the way in November at Mariners Park before succumbing to a 3-2 defeat.
Mickleover are 20th in the table and battling against relegation, but Shields know all about their capabilities.
Joint manager Graham Fenton has reminded his team that they are in for a challenging afternoon.
He said: “Mickleover are a good team.
“Some people who don’t know the league very well will look at the table and think Mickleover aren’t very good, but that’s not the case.
“They caused us problems at Mariners Park and are one of the teams in the league that try to play football and split at the back and play out.
“If you don’t get your organisation right they’ll cause you problems, so we’ll have to be right at it.
“I’m sure we’ll strive to put on a performance similar to the last couple of away games, which were really impressive.”
Shields go into the game without Gary Brown, Carl Finnigan and Barrie Smith, who are all injured.
Kick-off at the Don Amott Arena – which has a post code of DE3 9FB – is at 3pm.
Admission prices are £10 for adults, £7 for concessions and free for children.
South Shields’ upcoming league games against Mickleover Sports and Marine have been given new dates.
The Marine fixture was due to be held at Mariners Park on Saturday, March 9, but has now been switched to Tuesday, March 12.
The trip to Mickleover – which was subject to a postponement earlier this month – has been slotted in on Saturday, March 9.
The club was informed of these changes by the league on Monday.