Bali Mumba drilled home the only goal of the game as South Shields claimed a vital victory against promotion rivals Nantwich Town to move nine points clear at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division.
Mumba’s strike two minutes into the second half was a fine way for the Sunderland loanee to mark his first start for the Mariners, who moved 14 points ahead of Nantwich with their win.
It was a hard-fought encounter between the sides in Cheshire, with Shields overcoming three injury blows to seal a clean sheet and with it, a bit of revenge for their 4-1 defeat at home to the same opponents in February.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton made five changes to the side which won 2-1 at Bamber Bridge three days earlier, and opted to switch to a new formation as they fielded five at the back.
The closest Nantwich came to scoring was a whipped free-kick by Sean Cooke in the third minute which flashed across the box but evaded a touch.
The Mariners responded well and after Jason Gilchrist headed wide from a Jon Shaw cross, they went closer still as Mumba cut inside from the left before firing a low effort which was well saved by Cameron Gregory in the Dabbers goal.
Myles Boney made two important saves in the first half for Shields, first palming a deflected strike from Cooke wide before later pushing a Joe Malkin shot past the post as the forward ran through on goal.
At the other end, Gilchrist drew a smart save from Gregory and Jordan Hunter almost opened the scoring with a powerful effort from the edge of the area which took a slight deflection.
Mumba broke the deadlock less than two minutes into the second half as he drove down the right of the box and fired a low shot across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner.
The teenager proved too hot to handle in the second half and was repeatedly fouled, but the hosts were unable to stop him.
He almost created a second goal as he got in behind down the left and delivered a cross onto the head of Gilchrist, whose header went over.
Nantwich attempted to create some pressure in the closing stages but were unable to test Boney again as Shields remained resolute and saw out a vital victory.
They face another titanic tussle on Saturday when they welcome second-placed FC United of Manchester to Mariners Park.
A big crowd is expected and supporters are advised to buy tickets in advance from www.southshieldsfc.co.uk, by calling 0191 454 7800 between 12pm and 5pm or visiting Mariners Park between the same times.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Adams (Gillies 81), Verstraaten, Morse (Baxter 20), Brown (Gonzales 62), Briggs, Ross, Gilchrist, Shaw (c), Mumba. Subs not used: Turnbull, Lowe.
Goal: Mumba (47).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields missed the chance to go further clear at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division as they were beaten 4-1 by Nantwich Town at Mariners Park.
The in-form visitors scored with the only shot on target in a tight first half with a goal of the season contender from Casper Hughes, whose long distance piledriver found the top corner.
Shields battled for an equaliser against a well-organised outfit and found it with 18 minutes left as Jason Gilchrist nodded in his 20th goal of the season at the back post.
The vital third goal went the way of the visitors on 80 minutes as Sean Cooke finished off a well-worked move with the aid of a deflection and as the Mariners committed men forward in the closing stages, Nantwich scored twice more to seal an impressive victory.
The hosts started the game positively as they dominated possession, but the Dabbers proved to be a difficult team to break down as they held firm and restricted Shields’ opportunities to score.
Two Robert Briggs efforts from distance drifted wide but the Mariners will have felt confident more meaningful chances would arrive if they continued to show patience.
But they were then stunned nine minutes before half-time when the ball broke to Hughes 30 yards out and he took a touch before unleashing an unstoppable screamer which flew into the top corner.
Shields’ play had some greater urgency in the remainder of the first half, with both Darius Osei and Briggs having efforts deflected over before the teams were given the opportunity to regroup at the break.
The Mariners thought they had equalised in the 53rd minute when home debutant Osei headed home, but the celebrations were cut short by the offside flag.
The home side were looking more and more dangerous and went close to an equaliser as Craig Baxter teed up Osei in the area and his powerful effort was blocked by a defender, with Shields appealing for handball in vain.
Moments later Osei was forced off with a tight hamstring and Gary Brown was his replacement, with Dillon Morse pushed into a makeshift striking role.
The leveller arrived on 72 minutes and the change looked inspired as Brown lofted a ball into the box which Sefton Gonzales and Morse both battled for before a miscued clearance diverted to Gilchrist, who headed home at the back post.
Shields had the momentum and a number of other openings came their way, with Jordan Hunter firing over from the right of the box and Morse going closer when he beat goalkeeper Greg Hall to the ball but saw his header cleared off the line.
At that stage few would have bet against the Mariners going on to win maximum points but they were hit with a sucker punch with 10 minutes left as Nantwich impressively worked the ball down the right and a low cross found Sean Cooke, whose deflected shot wrong-footed Myles Boney and trickled agonisingly into the bottom corner.
Shields went more direct in their search for a second equaliser and one scramble in the box caused problems for the Dabbers before they were able to hack the ball clear.
Hunter had an effort deflected narrowly over and Brown headed wide from a corner but as more bodies were committed forward in Shields’ quest to salvage a point, they were twice hit on the break as first Ricardo Fuller and then Luke Walsh produced superb finishes on the break to give the scoreline a harsh look for the Mariners.
Shields are back in action on Tuesday when they take on Morpeth Town in the Integro Cup at Mariners Park.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Baxter, Ross (Thompson 62), Morse, Verstraaten, Lowe, Briggs (c), Gilchrist, Osei (Brown 70), Mason (Gonzales 54). Subs not used: Charlton, Whitley.
Goal: Gilchrist (72).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
Two of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division’s top five go head-to-head at Mariners Park on Saturday as South Shields take on Nantwich Town.
League leaders Shields go into the game nine points ahead of their opponents, who have played one match less.
A win would therefore be a huge boost for the Mariners as they aim to end a sequence of three league games without a win.
Joint manager Graham Fenton felt Shields were unfortunate not to come away from Tuesday’s derby trip to Morpeth Town with maximum points.
Jason Gilchrist deservedly put Shields ahead 10 minutes into the second half before Carl Finnigan equalised with 11 minutes remaining to earn the Highwaymen a share of the spoils.
The result may not have been what the Mariners desired but the performance certainly was, and Fenton says they take great confidence from it into Saturday’s match.
He said: “We know this game will be another tough test because Nantwich are in fine form.
“It’s always a competitive match against them and with their own free-flowing style of football I’m sure they will provide us with a few problems on the day.
“That said, we go into the game buoyant after the much-improved performance on Tuesday and are confident we will also provide them with lots of problems.”
After a run of three consecutive away fixtures, Fenton is pleased to be back on home soil on Saturday.
He is particularly looking forward to seeing his side play on a surface they are so accustomed to.
He added: “Some of the football played on a less than ideal pitch on Tuesday was fantastic to watch and hopefully that will give the players huge confidence, particularly back here at Mariners Park on a much better surface.
“Now we’re back at home, we need to get back to playing the style of football which we feel is and has been so productive and entertaining over the last few seasons.”
Shields remain without the injured Luke Daly, Ross Coombe, Blair Adams and Jon Shaw.
Kick-off at Mariners Park is at 3pm and admission – which can be paid at the turnstiles – is £10 for adults, £8 for students and over-65s, and £3 for under-16s.
Discounted tickets can be bought before midnight on Friday by clicking here.
The turnstiles will open at 12.30pm and the usual Happy Hours will be in operation between 12.30pm and 1.30pm, and from 5pm to 6pm.