Louis Storey scored a dramatic late winner as South Shields made it a club record-equalling 20 victories in a row on Wednesday.
Storey’s 87th minute header secured a vital 1-0 win at Newcastle Benfield in Northern League Division One.
On a tough night, Shields looked set to drop two points in the title race, but their win closed the gap to leaders North Shields to eight points, with the Mariners having two games in hand.
It was not a vintage performance by Shields on a pitch which made passing football difficult.
Benfield had an early opportunity to open the scoring, but Joshua Scott spurned it as he hit one over.
At the other end, a header from Carl Finnigan took a bobble off the pitch and was grasped at the second attempt by home goalkeeper Andrew Grainger.
More action followed in the 12th minute as Grainger saved a Finnigan shot outside the area, and the officials ruled it had not struck his hand.
Benfield countered, and John Campbell looked odds-on to open the scoring, only for Liam Connell in the Shields goal to produce a fine save.
Connell had a superb game between the sticks, and was also on hand to save well from Paul Brayson after his low effort looked set to sneak in.
At the other end, Finnigan had a shot deflected just wide, and the teams went in level at half-time.
Finnigan had a great chance to break the deadlock when Alex Nicholson found him with an excellent through ball, but he could only shoot over.
Benfield had more than their fair share of opportunities, too.
They almost took the lead with 64 minutes on the clock when Campbell’s free-kick from 20 yards took a deflection and looked set to wrong-foot Connell.
However, he would not be beaten, and stuck out a hand to brilliantly keep out the effort.
The Mariners seemed likely to have to settle for a point, until substitute David Foley’s shot was deflected out for a corner with three minutes left.
Andrew Stephenson curled in the set-piece and it was met by Storey, who sent a fine header beyond the defenders on the line to seal the three points.
It was an excellent moment for Storey, who has only recently returned from a five-month lay-off for a broken leg.
Shields are back in action on Saturday, when they take on fellow title contenders Shildon at Mariners Park.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Callaghan, Lough, Shaw, Arca (c) (Storey 58), Nicholson (Foley 58), Phillips, Finnigan, Stephenson, Richardson. Subs not used: Parkin, Holden, Briggs.
Goal: Storey (87).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields will be bidding to equal a bit of club history when they travel to Newcastle Benfield on Wednesday.
The Mariners are aiming to equal the club record of 20 wins in a row, achieved by last season’s Northern League Division Two title-winning squad.
It is an important game in Northern League Division One for Shields, who go into it 11 points behind leaders North Shields in second, but with three matches in hand.
At the same time, the two teams directly below them – Shildon and Morpeth Town – will be going head-to-head at Dean Street.
For the Mariners, it is a second trip to Sam Smith’s Park within a fortnight, having won 2-1 there in the League Cup thanks to a brace of goals from Michael Richardson.
In a thrilling ending, Richardson put Shields back in front four minutes from full-time, but there was still time for the hosts to be awarded – and miss – a penalty.
Joint manager Graham Fenton is expecting another tough evening for the Mariners.
He said: “It’s going to be difficult.
“Newcastle Benfield have got some real quality players, as we saw in the game recently.
“The pitch is going to be difficult, so we’ll have to adjust and adapt our game a little bit, but we’re relishing the challenges put in front of us.
“We’ve won 19 on the trot, and we really want to make it 20.”
Benfield may have gone four games without a win in all competitions, but are blessed with one of the most potent forward lines in the Northern League.
Paul Brayson and John Campbell have 58 league goals between them already this season.
Shields striker Gavin Cogdon said: “We know how hard it was in the cup tie there, so we’ve got to go there and put a good performance in.
“We don’t want to slip up. We’ve got to go there and give it everything, because they’ll want to take points off us as much as any other team.”
Shields will be without the suspended Dillon Morse, who begins a two-match ban following his sending off in the League Cup tie at Benfield. Iulian Petrache is also suspended, while Leepaul Scroggins, Barrie Smith and Stephen Ramsey are injured.
Anthony Callaghan is set to return to contention, though, having missed the Vase win on Saturday as he was cup-tied.
Kick-off at Sam Smith’s Park, which has a post code of NE6 4NU, is at 7.30pm.
Supporters of South Shields and Newcastle Benfield raised almost £200 for charity at the League Cup quarter-final between the sides on Wednesday.
The Mariners donated a signed shirt to be raffled off at Wednesday’s game between the sides at Sam Smith’s Park.
A total of £192 was raised by those who bought tickets for the raffle, with the proceeds going to Ward 34 of the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, located at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle. It is a specialist cancer care ward, which also includes a teenage and young adult unit.
The lucky winner of the shirt was young Mariners fan Bobby-j Bond, aged seven, who was presented with his prize by club chairman Geoff Thompson during the match. The winning ticket number was 581-585.
The raffle was part of continued fundraising efforts by Newcastle Benfield for Ward 34.
Benfield midfielder Kieran Wrightson is currently battling cancer, and has stayed in the teenage and young adults ward there for 12 weeks.
The club is supporting Ward 34 again on Wednesday, March 22, when they host Sunderland RCA in a rearranged fixture, after the original game was abandoned due to a frozen pitch last month.
Entry at that match, which kicks off at 7.30pm, will be free, with supporters who attend instead asked to make a voluntary donation on the night for Ward 34. There will again be a raffle held that night.