Robert Briggs struck an ice-cool stoppage time winner from the penalty spot as South Shields made it eight league victories in a row against Stalybridge Celtic at Mariners Park.
Briggs’ nerveless spot-kick settled a feisty encounter which had seen Celtic sternly test the credentials of their hosts.
Shields deservedly took the lead 10 minutes before half-time when David Foley’s deflected effort found the net, and they appeared well set to push on in the second half and press their advantage home.
Stalybridge fought back, though, and they were the team with the momentum when Chris Smalley fired them level 15 minutes from the end.
The Mariners showed tremendous resolve in the closing stages and when Nathan Lowe was fouled in the area, few were expecting Briggs to do anything but find the net.
He did just that to stretch Shields’ lead at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division to 10 points ahead of Saturday’s trip to Witton Albion.
The Mariners were unchanged from their 3-0 win over Atherton Collieries three days earlier, with Lee Mason and Josh Gillies continuing to miss out with illness and a stomach strain respectively.
They picked up where they left off in that match by keeping possession well in the early stages and threatening the visiting backline.
Blair Adams was the first to test Stalybridge’s on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Fojticek with a fizzing volley from the left of the area which the Slovakian did well to hold.
Although Shields were on top, they almost fell behind in the 18th minute as Jonathan Ustabasi nipped in behind on the left of the box and directed the ball across Myles Boney, who stretched out a leg to make an impressive save before Gary Brown and Phil Turnbull calmly cleared the danger.
The Mariners played some of their best football of the season to date in the first half and were rewarded 10 minutes before half-time.
Brown slid in to win the ball in the middle and it broke to Adams on the left. He swung in a superb cross which was met first time at the back post by Foley, whose shot took a big deflection before leaving Fojticek with no chance as the frontman notched his third goal in two matches.
The hosts’ lead was almost doubled three minutes before the interval when Jordan Hunter jinked past his man on the right of the box before thrashing an effort which cannoned against the far post.
The second half proved to be a more difficult affair for Shields as Stalybridge asserted themselves more on proceedings and provided a real threat.
A first warning came when Adams was forced to block brilliantly from Scott Bakkor, and frustration grew among the Mariners’ ranks as they were unable to rediscover their flowing football.
A two-minute burst of pressure from Shields just after the hour mark did threaten to put the game to bed, though.
Their first opportunity came as they patiently worked the ball from right to left and Foley was played in on goal, but Fojticek narrowed the angle quickly and made a good save.
The Mariners were then left scratching their heads as to how they were not two up as Sanmi Odelusi turned in the area and fired a low shot which hit the hand of Fojticek but was destined to find the net before a superb goal-line clearance saved the day for Stalybridge.
Almost immediately they went close to levelling as they broke down the other end and Darius Osei got in behind on the left before forcing Boney into a smart stop at his near post.
The match developed into a tetchy, tight battle and Stalybridge began to pressure their hosts before equalising from a corner.
With 15 minutes remaining, Declan Walker swung the ball in from the right and after Shields initially failed to clear it fell the way of Smalley, who struck it low and hard into the bottom corner.
The Mariners needed to respond and did so. They looked set to go back in front when substitute Jon Shaw was played through on the left of the box, but he dragged his effort wide.
At the other end, Ustabasi almost had a big opportunity to win it when a free-kick from the left dropped to his feet in front of goal, but he was unable to react quickly enough and the ball bounced off him and out for a goal kick.
The key moment came a minute into stoppage time when Shields got in down the right and Lowe was fouled in the area.
After a significant delay, Briggs stepped up to send Fojticek the wrong way from the spot and ensure the Mariners would celebrate another victory.
They now go in search of a ninth consecutive league win when they travel to Witton Albion on Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Adams, Turnbull, Morse, Brown, Thurston (Baxter 81), Lowe, Odelusi (Shaw 65), Briggs (c), Foley (Gilchrist 65). Subs not used: Charlton, Wokoma.
Goals: Foley (35), Briggs (pen 90+1).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields progressed to the second round of the Integro Cup with a comfortable 4-0 win at Tadcaster Albion on Tuesday.
Lee Mason fired the Mariners into a first half lead which they stretched in the second half with strikes from Jason Gilchrist, Robert Briggs and Jordan Annear.
Shields handed first starts to goalkeeper Ross Coombe and striker Annear at the i2i Stadium, and they were part of a strong line-up as five changes were made to the team which won 2-1 at Matlock Town three days earlier.
They started on the front foot, where they would stay for the remainder of the first round tie.
The Mariners almost took the lead as early as the fifth minute as a free-kick from deep on the right by Adam Thurston hit the leg of home goalkeeper Aaron Burn and fizzed to Gilchrist, who diverted the ball inches past the post.
Thurston and Annear also had efforts at goal before the Mariners opened the scoring on 25 minutes.
Briggs collected the ball in midfield and sprayed a tremendous ball forward which Mason controlled on his chest before rifling into the top corner via the crossbar.
Shields had a number of opportunities in the latter stages of the half, but were unable to add to the scoring.
Dillon Morse was denied at point-blank range by Burn after a Briggs corner fell to him and a goalbound effort from Mason was deflected wide after impressive work on the right by Jordan Hunter.
The visitors would have to wait until the 56th minute to extend their advantage.
The goal arrived following a well-worked move from left to right which concluded as Annear played the ball across the area to Gilchrist, who slammed it into the roof of the net from close range.
Shields suffered a blow soon after that as a hamstring injury forced Gilchrist’s withdrawal, but his replacement Millenic Alli had a superb impact from the bench as the tie was put to bed.
He won a penalty within a minute of being brought on as he beat his man brilliantly on the left and was then fouled in the area, and although Burn got a hand to Briggs’ spot-kick, he could not prevent it squeezing past him and into his right-hand corner.
Marcel Chigumira could have pulled a goal back for the home side within two minutes of that, but Coombe was on hand to deny him with his legs.
Shields continued to play some fine football and almost earned another reward as some fine play by Annear played in Briggs, who tremendously beat his man before forcing a decent stop from Burn.
The fourth goal to conclude proceedings arrived seven minutes before the end as Alli produced some superb skill to beat a defender on the right of the box before showing impressive composure to play the ball to Annear, who slotted home for his first goal in a Shields shirt.
The Mariners will look to continue their winning momentum when they host Basford United on Saturday in the league.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Coombe, Hunter, Charlton, Shaw (c) (Wokoma 72), Morse, Briggs, Thurston (Turnbull 51), Baxter, Gilchrist (Alli 64), Mason, Annear. Subs not used: Boney, Gillies.
Goals: Mason (25), Gilchrist (56), Briggs (pen 66), Annear (83).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Bob Scott.
South Shields ended Matlock Town’s unbeaten start to the season as a superb away performance set the platform for a 2-1 win in Derbyshire on Saturday.
The victory was hard-fought but deserved for the Mariners as they bounced back from their Emirates FA Cup replay defeat at Colne four days earlier.
Captain Jon Shaw – deployed in a striking role – broke the deadlock less than a minute into the second half with a stunning volley from just outside the box.
Vice captain Robert Briggs doubled the lead with a nerveless penalty before the hour mark and although Marcus Marshall pulled one back for the hosts towards the end, Shields held firm to claim a welcome three points.
Joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton introduced Shaw and Briggs to the Shields starting line-up, and the early signs suggested this was a team determined to return to winning ways after their midweek disappointment.
The new strike pairing of Shaw and Jason Gilchrist combined less than two minutes into the game, with Shaw’s flick latched onto by Gilchrist, whose superb lob dropped just past the post and into the side netting.
The Mariners went close again when Josh Gillies whipped in a corner from the right and Gary Brown directed it goalwards, but home goalkeeper Jonathan Stewart was able to push away his header.
Shields produced some bright moments in the first half, but were unable to find a way past Stewart.
He narrowly won a race with Gilchrist for a loose ball after a lofted pass by Briggs, with the striker having been destined to score had he got there first.
Matlock launched a swift break and threatened to get in behind when the ball was slipped through towards Marshall, but Brown was alert to the danger and made a vital interception.
Shaw and Gillies both went close for Shields with deflected efforts which went wide, while at the other end, a brace of free-kicks from the dangerous Daniel Bramall flew narrowly wide, although goalkeeper Myles Boney appeared to have both of them covered.
The best chance of the half came from the last action of it after Shields played a short corner on the left.
The ball was eventually swung in and met by the head of Dillon Morse before hitting the top of the bar and bouncing out to Gilchrist, who hammered a volley just over the top.
The Mariners will have been satisfied with their first half performance but mindful of the need to convert their possession, territory and chances into goals. They did not have to wait too long to do just that after the break.
Less than a minute into the second half, the breakthrough arrived in stunning fashion.
Adam Thurston did superbly on the right to put Matlock under pressure before sending in a cross which was headed out as far as Shaw on the edge of the box. The captain kept his eye on the ball and watched it onto his right foot before rifling a terrific volley into the bottom corner, with the power on the strike giving Stewart no chance.
Shaw revelled in the goal as he rolled back the years and showed the striker’s instincts which saw him have such success in that position with the likes of Gateshead, Burton Albion and Luton Town before switching to central defence with Shields.
Another acrobatic effort from the skipper came in the 56th minute as he got on the end of a long throw from Brown, but this time a defender was in the way to block and clear the danger.
Shields did strike again before the hour, though, and again Thurston was at the heart of it as he drove at the Matlock defence from the right before being bundled over in the area.
Briggs took the ball and made no mistake from the spot with a sweet strike into Stewart’s bottom left corner to extend the Mariners’ advantage.
Matlock were attempting to protect their unbeaten start to the season and showed great fight in the closing stages as they tried to force their way back into the game.
The lively Bramall had a shot deflected wide after cutting inside from the left before the hosts halved the deficit with a move which originated on the same flank.
The ball was eventually played into Marshall who after receiving it with his back to goal, turned well and fired it past Boney from 12 yards to set up a grandstand finish.
Shields did well to largely restrict the home side’s opportunities in the final 15 minutes despite a flurry of deliveries into the penalty area.
They could have made the points safe at the other end, with Shaw going closest as he got on the end of a fine move before pulling the trigger on the inside-right of the area and seeing the ball whistle just wide.
Shaw ended the game back in defence as the Mariners defended their lead, and the best chance for an equaliser fell to Matlock’s goalkeeper Stewart after he came forward for a corner in stoppage time. The ball fell to him 12 yards out and it was a presentable opportunity, but he blazed high and wide with his weaker foot.
Shields effectively saw the game out to take their tally to 13 points from their first six league matches heading into next Saturday’s encounter with second-placed Basford United at Mariners Park.
Before that, it’s a trip to Tadcaster Albion in the Integro Cup on Tuesday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Adams, Turnbull, Morse, Brown, Thurston, Briggs (Baxter 83), Gilchrist (Annear 67), Gillies (Mason 64), Shaw (c). Subs not used: Charlton, Alli.
Goals: Shaw (46), Briggs (pen 59).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.