A stunning strike from Andrew Stephenson sealed three vital points for South Shields as they battled to a 2-1 win at Ryhope CW on Saturday.

Stephenson scored the winner 19 minutes before the end as the Mariners closed the gap at the top of Northern League Division One to 14 points.

The sides had been level after Josh Home-Jackson cancelled out an early Carl Finnigan penalty with a superb hit from distance for the hosts.

The victory made it 26 in a row for Shields, extending the club record for consecutive wins.

They started brightly at Ryhope, and almost took the lead within the first minute when Alex Nicholson clipped a superb ball over the top which Finnigan drilled not far past the post.

David Foley and Finnigan also had efforts saved by home goalkeeper Antony Lowerson, but he was unable to keep the scores level for long.

Finnigan was fouled in the area in the 11th minute, and stepped up himself to send Lowerson the wrong way from the penalty spot and score his 24th goal of the season.

Shields were well on top, and looking likely to extend their advantage.

Lowerson thwarted Finnigan with a good low save, while Gavin Cogdon volleyed over as two chances came and went within a matter of seconds.

Ryhope battled their way back into the game well, and enjoyed a decent five-minute spell before drawing level.

Home-Jackson struck a superb effort from 25 yards into the top corner, giving debutant Pete Jameson no chance in the Shields goal.

Although the home side had no clear-cut chances to claim the lead, they did cause the Mariners problems and the game became more even.

Robert Briggs went close to restoring the Shields advantage two minutes before half-time, but Lowerson did well to push his free-kick around the post.

Jon Shaw was introduced from the bench at half-time by Lee Picton and Graham Fenton, with Louis Storey pushed into midfield and Briggs brought off.

Within five minutes of coming on, Shaw struck the woodwork as he headed against the post after meeting a Stephenson corner at the near post.

Cogdon also almost put Shields ahead when he picked up the ball on the outside-right of the box before flashing an effort just over.

The pressure from the visitors was cranked up the longer the second half went on, but the Mariners were just unable to get the vital breakthrough.

A great run down the left by Cogdon ended when Lowerson denied him with a low save, while Anthony Callaghan also had an attempt kept out by the goalkeeper and Finnigan had an effort deflected narrowly wide.

Cogdon looked certain to make it 2-1 when a mistake at the back from Ryhope let him in on goal, but he hit his shot against the post as it began to look like it might be one of those days for Shields.

In fact, they almost went behind when James Ellis cut in from the left for the hosts, but Jameson made a good save with his foot on the only occasion he was seriously called upon in the second half.

The Mariners finally found their breakthrough in the 71st minute with another goal of the season contender.

A ball from halfway was headed out as far as Stephenson, who chested it down 25 yards from goal. He then drove a fantastic effort over Lowerson and into the net to delight the large travelling support.

Cogdon, Foley and captain Barrie Smith all had good opportunities to make the points safe, but were unable to beat Lowerson.

Ryhope were unable to carve out a decent opportunity of their own, despite some nervous moments for Shields in the closing stages when they were forced to defend set-pieces.

Elsewhere, Shildon defeated league leaders North Shields 2-0, meaning the Mariners cut the gap at the top to 14 points, while they have five games in hand.

SOUTH SHIELDS: Jameson, Nicholson, Callaghan, Briggs (Shaw 46), Morse, Storey, Smith (c), Stephenson, Cogdon, Finnigan (Baxter 84), Foley. Subs not used: Connell, Holden, Ramsey.

Goals: Finnigan (pen 12), Stephenson (71).

Attendance: 761.

WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.

South Shields turned in a performance of the highest order as a Robert Briggs hat-trick helped them to a 6-1 thrashing of Ryhope CW at Mariners Park on Saturday.

Shields recovered from a slow start to dominate the game and claim a sixth consecutive victory, which moved them to the top of Northern League Division One.

After falling behind early on, excellent goals from Jon Shaw and Julio Arca turned the game around, and they then motored on further in the second half, with Craig Baxter notching before Briggs stole the show.

The game was played in front of a crowd of 1,144, which was the third four-figure attendance in a week at Mariners Park.

The large home support was shocked into silence after just two minutes, though, when Ryhope’s James Ellis rattled a free-kick into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.

Shields struggled to get going in the early stages, with a number of passes going astray as they tried to play their way back into proceedings.

They felt in need of some inspiration, and they got just that on 16 minutes.

David Carson played a ball into the feet of Shaw just inside the area, and he rifled a left-foot shot beyond visiting goalkeeper Christopher Rookes and into the top corner.

Within two minutes of that, the Mariners were ahead after another excellent goal.

Again Shaw was at the heart of things as he linked up with Arca, who first drove through the centre before a terrific give and go with Shaw. The striker then played Arca through on goal, and he made no mistake as he rolled the ball into the bottom corner.

The Mariners’ football then begun to flow the way they wanted it to, and they were superb from then on.

They carried the 2-1 lead into half-time, but the scoreline could have been much more comfortable by then.

Chances for Ryhope were rare, but Nathan O’Neill did have half an opportunity to level, only to stab an effort over from a corner.

At the other end, a Wayne Phillips shot surprisingly kept low and almost caught out Rookes, who managed to kick it away.

Joss Carmichael in the Shields goal was rarely called upon, but he did make a good stop from Ellis late in the first half after he rolled his defender to get in on goal.

As half-time grew nearer, though, the home side’s dominance increased, and Shaw went agonisingly close to doubling his tally for the afternoon when Leepaul Scroggins found him on the edge of the box and he rattled a low shot which Rookes tipped wide.

Rookes made an even better save from the striker soon after, clawing his header over the bar after he was found by Phillips, who had bamboozled his defender with some great skill before delivering a superb cross.

Shaw went close again two minutes before the break as Shields again cut Ryhope open, but this time he was off target as he hammered the ball narrowly over.

The momentum did not halt with the half-time whistle, with the Mariners coming out of the blocks extremely sharp in the second half.

Within three minutes of the restart, the third goal arrived after another good move, with Briggs eventually cutting open the away defence with a ball to Baxter, who rifled into the roof of the net from the inside-right of the box.

Briggs himself got in on the act soon after as Shaw nicked the ball off a Ryhope defender before clipping it past the goalkeeper for his team-mate to tap home.

Ryhope continued to possess an attacking threat, and a ball over the top played Harvey Saunders in on goal, but Carmichael was in determined mood and kept out his low effort.

Shields showed greater potency going forward, and added their fifth goal of the afternoon when Barrie Smith curled in an inch-perfect ball from the right which Briggs nodded into the top corner.

Briggs almost completed a 13-minute hat-trick soon after, but his free-kick from outside the area on the left clipped the crossbar.

He did not have to wait too much longer for his third, though, and it came when Louis Storey brought the ball down the left flank before pulling it back to Briggs, who steered it first time into the bottom corner with a brilliant finish.

In the closing stages, Shields were content to retain possession and maintain their five-goal advantage, with an off-target Warren Byrne free-kick the only real chance they had to extend their lead.

The victory left them top of Northern League Division One after both North Shields and champions Shildon failed to win their Saturday games.

The Mariners will aim for a seventh win in a row on Tuesday when they make the tough trip to Marske United, who finished second last season and were champions the year before.

SOUTH SHIELDS: Carmichael, Baxter, Arca (Morse 35), Briggs, Danny Carson, Storey, Smith, Scroggins (c) (Palmer 64), Shaw (Byrne 60), David Carson, Phillips. Subs not used: Parkin, Finnigan.

Goals: Shaw (16), Arca (18), Baxter (48), Briggs (51, 61, 71).

Attendance: 1,144.

WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.

South Shields host Ryhope Colliery Welfare on Saturday (3pm kick-off) as they go in search of a sixth win in a row.

The Mariners go into the match second in Northern League Division One, level with leaders North Shields.

Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Washington in Graham Fenton and Lee Picton’s first match in charge was played in front of a crowd of 1,164 at Mariners Park.

There are hopes there will be another impressive attendance for the visit of Ryhope, with Sunderland not in action and Newcastle United’s away game at Derby County not kicking off until 5.30pm.

Picton hopes the Mariners can feed off the crowd in Saturday’s game.

He said: “It was a fantastic crowd on Tuesday, and they’re always fantastically supportive of the lads.

“I think there are times in the last couple of games when we should have tried to utilise the crowd a little bit more.

“I watched the footage back from the Whitley Bay game and the fourth goal, where the lads were flying into challenges, the crowd was going crazy and then when Carl Finnigan stuck it in the net, the roof came off.

“That’s what you need, and the players and crowd feed off each other.

“That’s what we’ve got to try to do as much as we can, because we’ve got unbelievable support.”

Shields and Ryhope were promoted with each other from Northern League Division Two last season.

Picton is hopeful that the Mariners will show further progress in the game.

He added: “We had a good training session on Thursday and have prepared properly.

“We’ve watched and reviewed the footage from Tuesday’s game, have picked out some key points and will look to make progress.

“We’re still a new team, and as always, it’s about progressing as a side.”

Kick-off is at 3pm, and admission – to be paid at the turnstiles – is £6 for adults, £4 for over-65s and £2 for under-16s.

Below is the front cover of the programme – which includes an interview with Graham Fenton – for the game.

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