South Shields twice came from behind to win a pulsating encounter with Prescot Cables as they moved three points clear at the top of the Evo-Stik North Division on Saturday.
The Mariners fell behind in the first minute and probed throughout the remainder of the first half before Lee Mason drew them level.
Prescot went back in front with a counter-attack goal 10 minutes into the second half, and Shields had to show tremendous fighting spirit to bounce back.
Dillon Morse equalised with a tidy low finish and, with a raucous home crowd behind them, the Mariners made it a quickfire double as Mason drove in his second of the game.
Robert Briggs and Jon Shaw also netted in the closing stages to cap a thrilling game and secure a hard-earned three points which Shields will hope prove important in the title race.
They could not have had a more disappointing start on Saturday, though, as they fell behind within the first minute.
Shields gave the ball away from kick-off and surrendered possession again before the dangerous Michael Monaghan hit an effort from just outside the area which took a deflection and beat Liam Connell.
The hosts’ response in the remainder of the first half was terrific as they laid siege to the Cables goal.
Jamie Holmes – who was a constant threat – just failed to control a ball across the area by Lee Mason, who later found the net himself with a brilliant finish, only to see the goal controversially ruled out for offside.
Chance after chance was created as Shields piled on the pressure.
Darren Lough almost netted his first goal for the club after Julio Arca picked him out with a fine pass, but goalkeeper Ben Barnes forced the left-back’s effort behind.
From the resulting corner, Barnes made a superb stop with his foot to keep out a header from Louis Storey, and he later brilliantly tipped a Robert Briggs free-kick over the bar to keep the home side at bay.
Somehow, Prescot survived a goalmouth scramble five minutes before half-time when Dillon Morse’s header took a deflection and came back off the post to Gavin Cogdon, who rifled a shot which was somehow cleared off the line.
It appeared inevitable that Cables could not hold out for much longer, and Shields’ equaliser finally arrived in the 41st minute.
Briggs curled in a teasing low cross from the left and it evaded everyone before being pushed by Barnes to Mason, who forced it home for his first league goal for the Mariners.
Shields would have been hoping to build on that after half-time, but a swift counter-attack by the visitors put them back in front.
They broke well and James Edgar played the ball to Monaghan, who brought the ball inside onto his right foot and buried an effort into the corner.
The Mariners were again chasing the game, but this time it did not take them as long to find a leveller.
A Briggs corner was cleared but Shields kept the ball alive and it was worked out to Jon Shaw on the left.
He sent a low cross into the box which central defensive partner Morse got on the end of to bundle home his ninth goal of the season.
With a raucous Mariners Park crowd fully behind their team, Shields scored again less than two minutes later as some superb play by Holmes set up Mason, who took a couple of touches in the area before firing low and hard between the legs of Barnes.
The atmosphere was stepped up a notch as the home faithful recognised the significance of this potential victory, and they roared their team on to two more goals in the final stages.
Holmes was again at the heart of Shields’ fourth as he tricked his way past several defenders on the left before laying the ball on a plate for Briggs, who rifled into the corner.
There was still time for Shaw to get in on the act in stoppage time when, after a Prescot defender had headed against the crossbar, he took advantage of the rebound to nod in via the bar.
It was a superb victory for Shields which they will hope pushes them closer to promotion.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c), Storey, Briggs, Cogdon (Sullivan 58), Mason (Richardson 67), Holmes (Armstrong 87). Subs not used: Woolston, Ross.
Goals: Mason (41, 66), Morse (64), Briggs (86), Shaw (90+2).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields were forced to settle for a goalless draw at in-form Prescot Cables on an afternoon of few chances at Volair Park.
Both teams did their best to deal with the extremely difficult pitch and weather conditions, but could not find a breakthrough.
The hosts were reduced to 10 men late on as Shields pushed for a winner, but they eventually ran out of time as they earned a point which took them three clear at the top of EVO-STIK North.
The Mariners started brightly against their third-placed opponents, with Craig Baxter dispossessing his opponent on the right channel early on before releasing Gavin Cogdon, who dragged an effort wide.
Clear-cut chances were few and far between, though, as both teams struggled to get their football flowing on a tough surface.
Prescot’s first sights of goal saw Baba Conte fire over from 12 yards and Jordan Wynne cut a shot wide after driving through the centre.
Shields’ best opportunities of the half were in the latter stages of it as they began to put the hosts under pressure.
Robert Briggs lifted an effort not far over from just outside the box on the left, Jamie Holmes had one deflected wide after a strong run from the right and Carl Finnigan curled a shot off target.
A golden opportunity arrived in the last minute of the half as Cogdon worked his way into an excellent position on the right before sending a teasing ball across the area for Holmes, who fired over from a good position.
Shields goalkeeper Liam Connell was tested for the first time a minute into the second half as Wynne hit an effort from long range which he managed to beat away.
The closest Shields came was in the 54th minute when a left-wing corner from Briggs was met by Finnigan at the near post, who saw his header come back off the post.
Finnigan had another good opportunity less than a minute later as he got on the end of a cross from Cogdon, but he was unable to find a way past home goalkeeper Ben Purdham.
With rain teeming down and the conditions becoming ever more treacherous, it became increasingly likely that neither team would be able to make the deadlock.
However, with 13 minutes left, it looked like Shields may have unlocked the door. Cogdon was sent sprinting through on goal and with the striker about to pull the trigger, he was fouled on the edge of the box by Louis Coyne. The referee had no hesitation in showing him a red card.
The resulting free-kick from Briggs was deflected over by the wall, but even with a man advantage, it was a struggle for Shields to find a way past the resilient Cables.
The only chance of any note in the final stages fell to Cogdon, who controlled the ball just inside the box before directing a low effort which Purdham clung onto at the second attempt.
Overall, it is a point Shields may eventually come to look at as one gained as they strengthened their grip on top spot.
They are back in action on Tuesday when they host Stocksbridge Park Steels in the Integro League Challenge Cup at Mariners Park.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Storey, Morse, Arca (c) (Stephenson 62), Pattison, Briggs, Cogdon, Finnigan, Holmes. Subs not used: Norton, Shaw, Richardson, Sullivan.
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields are set for another test of their promotion credentials on Saturday as they travel to in-form Prescot Cables in Evo-Stik North.
The match was originally scheduled to take place at Mariners Park before being switched to Prescot earlier this month.
Merseysiders Prescot are third in the table – four points behind table-topping Shields – heading into the fixture at Volair Park, though the Mariners have five games in hand.
Graham Fenton and Lee Picton’s side have won 12 of their 13 matches in the league so far, and are two points ahead of second-placed Bamber Bridge, who have played four games more.
Saturday’s match therefore gives them an opportunity to strengthen an already commanding position.
However, joint manager Fenton expects a difficult task against a Prescot side who have won their last three games, including victories over high-flying Scarborough Athletic and Glossop North End.
He said: “We’re really hoping to kick on after last week’s 6-1 win against Droylsden, but Prescot Cables are in very good form.
“It’s going to be a hugely difficult task going away from home to a good side like them and trying to pick up three points, but it’s what we’re going to try to do.
“I’d hazard a guess that, with the amount of games they’ve had on their pitch so far, the surface will not be like what it is at Mariners Park.
“We might have to adapt a little bit and come up with a different gameplan and way of playing because of that.
“As long as we go there with the same mentality and application as the lads did last Saturday, we’re going to give them a good test.”
Shields will be without the injured Barrie Smith, who is expected to be out for between two and three weeks with a groin strain.
Jon Shaw is a doubt with a calf injury, as is Anthony Callaghan with a back injury, while long-term injured duo Stephen Ramsey and Adam Hutchinson will again miss out.
The Mariners are hopeful that Carl Finnigan will be available to play a part, though, after he trained on Thursday.
Finnigan is hoping to add to his tally of 14 goals so far this season.
He said: “We’ve put ourselves in a fantastic position, but, because we’re a few games behind, the table is a little bit false at the moment.
“To have gone this many games and only lost one is a good feat, and something we want to keep going.
“We have to keep working hard as we did last Saturday and try to get ourselves clear at the top of the table.”
Kick-off is at 3pm, and the post code of the ground is L34 6ND.
Late places on supporters’ coaches to the game are available by contacting Westoe Travel on 0191 455 2292 or the Simonside Branch on 07706 517010.