By Daniel Prince
South Shields earned an excellent and well-deserved 1-0 win at Whickham after Ben Riding stooped to head in the winner.
The Mariners went into the game on the back of four straight defeats, while Whickham were in a fine run of form.
However, Shields were the better side from the first whistle to the last, with a committed, determined and disciplined performance taking them to a welcome victory.
Several enforced team changes saw the likes of Shaun Smith, Paul Greenwell and Adam Burnicle start, and all played admirably in a terrific team display.
Another huge positive for the Mariners was the return of Barrie Smith, who came on for the last 13 minutes after recovering from groin surgery.
From the outset, it was a much-improved showing from Shields, and they almost went ahead within three minutes.
Stephen Ramsey’s header was dropping in, only for Whickham goalkeeper John Mordey to claw it onto the bar and over.
Ben Riding did well at the other end to block an effort from Mark Fitzpatrick, but Shields were causing the Whickham defence all sorts of problems without getting the breakthrough.
Burnicle went so close to firing in the opener on 20 minutes after being played in on the left of the box, but his left-foot shot went inches wide of the near post and into the side netting.
That was Shields’ most clear-cut chance in a first half they had much the better of, with the three-man defence of Chris Locke, Greenwell and Riding working well, while Shaun Smith and Burnicle were industrious on the flanks.
Ramsey and Tony Burnell were also having joy with flick-ons, although often Shields were unable to get anyone on the end of them.
The Mariners still needed to be alert at the other end, though, and the excellent Shaun Smith made a tackle five minutes before the break to deny Whickham an effort at goal.
The away side did get one more chance before half-time, but after Burnell won yet another flick-on, Ramsey’s effort across the goal went past the post.
After such a positive first 45 minutes, Shields almost saw all their good work undone as Whickham enjoyed a strong start to the second half.
They threatened on the right flank within a minute of the restart, with Sam MacIntosh’s cross going just over the bar.
A long throw from the right three minutes later for Whickham eventually found captain Ian Robson, but his shot was well saved by Jak Wells with his legs.
In truth, that was as close as the hosts got at The Glebe Sports Ground, with Shields again taking control after Wells’ save.
In the 60th minute, only a fantastic save by Mordey kept the Mariners at bay.
After Burnell mis-hit a shot across the box, the ball bounced up for Shaun Smith, but his powerful half-volley was strongly palmed over the bar one-handed by Mordey.
That only momentarily delayed Shields’ breakthrough, though, which arrived from the resulting corner.
Richard Logan’s in-swinger from the left went all the way to the back post, where Riding was on hand to nod the ball past the men on the line with minimal fuss.
It was no less than Shields deserved for their play, and although they had been unable to create too many clear-cut chances, they had always looked threatening.
Barrie Smith was introduced to the action 13 minutes from time after Burnell went off with an injury, while Kyle Houshby also came on to replace the impressive Logan.
There were few chances in the closing stages of the game, although Fitzpatrick did have a decent chance from just outside the box for the home side, but ballooned it over.
Shields fully merited their three points against Northern League Division Two’s eighth-placed side in what was their last away game of the season.
Greenwell at the back particularly impressed with an imposing display, while his delivery from deep was also a real positive.
Riding and Locke rarely put a foot wrong alongside him, while Shaun Smith had an excellent game on the right, with his work-rate in particular drawing praise.
In truth, every member of the team can take credit for their performance, with a real combined effort taking the Mariners to a deserved victory.
Shields will now hope for similar displays in their final four games as they aim to end the season on a high.
They are next in action on Tuesday, when they host Ryton and Crawcrook Albion at Peterlee.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Wells, Locke, Riding, Greenwell, Davidson, Richardson, S Smith, Logan (Houshby 86), Ramsey (c), Burnell (B Smith 77), Burnicle. Subs not used: Kwalangana, Clarey, Berhan.
Goal: Riding (60).