JJ Hooper was the star of the show as his four goals sealed a pulsating comeback win for South Shields against Nantwich Town at a buoyant 1st Cloud Arena.
The Mariners found themselves two goals behind at the break despite largely dominating possession, with Sean Cooke firing Nantwich into the lead from the penalty spot before Jake Bickerstaff doubled their advantage with a fine finish.
Shields were handed a golden opportunity to pull one back seven minutes into the second half but Robert Briggs’ spot-kick struck the post, and the hosts may have been wondering at that stage if it was set to be one of those days.
Hooper changed the narrative, though, halving the deficit with a close-range finish just after the hour mark before a brace of headers completed his hat-trick and edged Kevin Phillips’ side in front.
The striker completed the scoring with his fourth two minutes from the end to seal a dramatic victory as the Mariners moved three points clear at the top of the Pitching In Northern Premier League.
Shields will hope this proves to be a pivotal day in the race for promotion after they were made to work tirelessly for their win.
They conceded the opening goal on the quarter-hour mark, with Cooke converting a penalty for Nantwich after Jack Bodenham was adjudged to have fouled Akiel Raffie in the area.
Mitch Rose was off target with two efforts as the Mariners probed for a quick equaliser, but the hosts fell further behind in the 24th minute when Bickerstaff displayed some impressive footwork on the left of the area before breaking into space and rifling a low shot into the bottom corner.
The home side’s response was strong in the remainder of the first half, but despite a series of strikes from Nathan Lowe, they were unable to pull a goal back before the break.
Shields began peppering their opponents’ goal after the interval and they looked set to half the deficit on 52 minutes when the visitors were penalised for a handball, but Briggs suffered a rare miss from the spot when his penalty came back off the post.
Undeterred, the Mariners did not let their heads drop and the onslaught continued.
Bodenham headed narrowly over from a Lowe corner and Sam Hodgson was denied by visiting goalkeeper Matty Gould before Hooper notched his first of the afternoon, touching home from close range after Hodgson clipped the ball past Gould.
Shields had the momentum at this stage and made it a quickfire double to pull back on level terms when Jordan Hunter and Lowe combined on the right and the latter’s delicate cross was brilliantly directed into the bottom corner by the head of Hooper.
With a raucous crowd of over 2,000 urging them on, the hosts continued to attack and they had a number of opportunities to take the lead for the first time, with Briggs shooting just wide from 20 yards and later being denied by Gould after some fine trickery in the box, and Hunter narrowly kept off the scoresheet when his cross-come-shot was clawed away by the goalkeeper.
At the other end, Myles Boney made an impressive stop from Cooke as Nantwich made a rare foray forward.
Despite their regular raids into the visitors’ final third, time looked to be running out for Shields until Hooper grabbed the decisive goal six minutes from time.
Again he had Lowe to thank for breaking Nantwich’s resolve, with the number seven delivering a peach of a cross from the right which Hooper met with a bullet header into the centre of the net.
There appeared no way back from there for the Dabbers and the points were sealed for the Mariners on 88 minutes when Briggs released Hooper on the inside-left of the area and the former Newcastle United forward made no mistake, beating Gould with a fine finish to cap an excellent performance.
It was a sixth straight victory on home soil for Shields, who now face a run of four consecutive away fixtures, starting at Ashton United on Tuesday.
South Shields: Boney, Hunter, Adams (c), Shaw, Morse, Bodenham, Lowe, Rose, Hodgson (Osei 76), Briggs, Hooper. Subs not used: Jenkins, McGowan, Tee, Kempster.
Goals: Hooper (61, 64, 84, 88).
Image: Kev Wilson.
South Shields welcome Nantwich Town to 1st Cloud Arena on Saturday as they aim to maintain their position at the top of the Pitching In Northern Premier League (3pm kick-off).
The Mariners defeated Matlock Town 3-1 on Tuesday to take their place at the summit but with several teams close behind them, the importance of following it up with another victory is clear.
A difficult encounter is expected, with Nantwich having won 5-1 at Stalybridge Celtic in their last outing.
The Dabbers come to South Tyneside threatened by relegation and sitting third-bottom, but their away form has been impressive throughout the season and they have among the 10 best records on the road in the division.
The reverse fixture, held at Nantwich’s the Weaver Stadium in October, ended in a 0-0 draw.
The dugout view
First-team coach Wess Brown was delighted with the performance of the Mariners on Tuesday, but has warned the victory’s significance will be diluted if it is not followed up by another win on Saturday.
Brown said: “It was a dominant performance from us from start to finish, and one that had been coming from the lads for a while.
“We had one lapse in concentration which let them in, but we knew what they were going to throw at us and dealt with them really well.
“We’ve set the standard now with that performance, but the lads know that Tuesday’s win is only good if we go again on Saturday and put in another big performance.
“We need to put a good run together to stay at the top.”
Nantwich have provided several difficult tests for the Mariners in their time together in the Pitching In Northern Premier League, and Brown is expecting more of the same this weekend.
He added: “Despite what the overall league table might say, Nantwich are one of the form teams in the division.
“They have been very good away from home in particular, and we’re well aware they have some extremely dangerous players who are capable of causing any team problems.
“We have never had an easy game against Nantwich and we’re not expecting that to change this time.
“They are likely to raise their game against us, but hopefully it will be another great occasion and it is up to us to follow up our performance from Tuesday.”
The Mariners are expecting to have Nathan Lowe available after he limped off in the second half of the midweek win with a shin injury.
However, they anticipate again being without Cedric Main as he continues his recovery from a knee injury, and will definitely have midfielder Callum Ross (knee) missing for the 3pm kick-off.
Shields were backed by their highest crowd of the season on Tuesday when 2,639 supporters packed into 1st Cloud Arena.
Admission prices for Saturday’s game are £10 for adults, £8 for students, over-65s and disabled supporters, and £3 for under-16s. Cash turnstiles will be in operation but tickets can be purchased in advance until 12pm on matchday by clicking here.
In a change to previous arrangements, turnstiles 1 and 2 will be allocated for supporters who are season ticket holders or have pre-bought tickets or hospitality packages ONLY. Fans will be able to pay for entry at turnstiles 3, 4, 5 and 6, and will be directed as such on matchday. Season tickets and pre-bought tickets can be scanned at any of the turnstiles.
Happy hour pricing will be in place in the downstairs TGS bar between 5pm and 6pm, with all other bars and the marquee to be closed after the final whistle due to private function bookings.
South Shields maintained their unbeaten start in the Pitching In Northern Premier League after a 0-0 draw at Nantwich Town on Saturday.
The Mariners failed to score for the first time in the league this season and registered their third draw so far in the stalemate at the Optimum Pay Stadium.
On an afternoon of frustration, Shields lost Will Jenkins to a serious-looking leg injury early on and also saw substitute Ntumba Massanka sent off late on.
Shields headed to Cheshire in challenging circumstances, with manager Graham Fenton forced to self-isolate at home after testing positive for COVID-19. Wing-backs Jordan Hunter and Blair Adams were among the players they were unable to select due to injury.
Jenkins replaced Will McGowan in the only change to the starting line-up from Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Lancaster City at 1st Cloud Arena and the opening exchanges offered encouragement, with the Mariners quickly establishing control of the ball.
The long delay following the injury sustained by Jenkins – X-rays later revealed the midfielder had not suffered a leg fracture – punctured that bright start, though, and both teams struggled to find their rhythm in the next period of the game.
Just after the half-hour, the match spluttered into life as Shields saw a strong penalty appeal waved away following a challenge on Callum Stead and Darius Osei bent a fierce effort narrowly over the bar from 20 yards.
At the other end, Alex Kempster blocked a strike from the dangerous Sean Cooke, who later saw a volley from just outside the area deflected wide.
Arguably the greatest chance of the half fell to Stead, who conjured an opportunity for himself with some tenacious play before seeing his low drive held by Nantwich goalkeeper Matthew Gould.
The Dabbers offered more of a threat going forward in the second half but the first sniff of goal fell to Shields, with a low strike by Osei pushed wide by Gould.
It was the start of a strong period from the Mariners, with Kempster seeing a low cross pushed away by Gould and Osei firing over after being picked out by a fine Kempster cross.
Nantwich almost took the lead when Daniel Cockerline just failed to connect with a low cross from the right with the goal gaping, and the hosts had further half-chances, but Prince Haywood and Cockerline were off target with their attempts.
Goalmouth action was rare at both ends as the second half progressed towards a conclusion but in Myles Boney, Shields had an in-form and alert goalkeeper who did well to keep out a long-range stinger from Cooke.
Massanka was given his marching orders in stoppage time following an off-the-ball incident and neither side was able to force an opening as they took away a point apiece.
Shields – now separated from new league leaders Matlock Town by goal difference – are back in action on Tuesday with a league trip to Bamber Bridge.
South Shields: Boney, Martin, Bodenham, Briggs, Morse, Ross (c), Jenkins (McGowan 14) (Lowe 70), Tee, Osei, Stead (Massanka 61), Kempster. Subs not used: Shaw, Hodgson.
Image: Kev Wilson.