Lee Mason’s eighth goal in five games sealed another vital three points for South Shields as they deservedly won 1-0 at Witton Albion on Saturday.
Mason continued his fine run of form by netting just after the half-hour mark as Shields took advantage of their first half dominance.
They were made to work for their victory after half-time as Witton generated some pressure, but held out to close the gap at the top of the Evo-Stik Premier Division to three points.
Shields’ first half performance was one of their best of the season to date as they outplayed their hosts with some outstanding football.
Initially, though, they struggled to seriously test home goalkeeper Greg Hall, who comfortably made saves from Josh Gillies and Lee Mason in the early stages.
Liam Connell was forced to make the most impressive stop of the early period when he tipped a free-kick from Will Booth over the bar, although it would have been a surprise to see the goalkeeper beaten by the central effort.
Nathan Lowe was at the heart of much of the Mariners’ brightest play as he proved a huge influence in the middle of the park.
He provided an opportunity for Mason in the 17th minute when he brilliantly played the ball through to the frontman, but after he took it inside and onto his right foot, his low drive was kept out by Hall.
Shields felt aggrieved by a host of refereeing decisions throughout the afternoon, with the most controversial coming in the 19th minute.
After a corner was cleared back to him on the left, Gillies curled in a delightful delivery which appeared to have been headed over the line by Gary Brown despite the efforts of Hall and Witton defenders on the goal-line.
The officials, though, ruled that the ball had not crossed the line and the deadlock continued.
Finnigan had a great chance to break it soon after when he was found by a Gillies free-kick, but his header was straight at Hall.
Shields deservedly went in front on 32 minutes and the scorer of the goal was no surprise.
Mason played in Lowe down the left of the box before continuing his run, and the striker was on hand to bury a low effort after Lowe played the ball into a dangerous area.
Craig Baxter and Blair Adams forced Hall into further saves before half-time while Lowe was not far away from a deserved goal when his sweet strike from 20 yards was deflected past the post.
It was a superb first half display which perhaps warranted more than a one-goal lead for the Mariners, who were dealt a blow early in the second half when Finnigan was forced off with an ankle injury.
They were unable to play with the same swagger after the break, but the grit they showed to secure a clean sheet and a vital three points will have pleased joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton just as much.
Witton possessed a threat going forward, particularly from long throws, but were unable to seriously test Connell.
Shields were mainly limited to efforts from distance in the second half, with Lowe having a number of sighters of goal without troubling Hall.
The hosts’ best opportunity fell to Tom Owens, who turned inside the area before firing over with 15 minutes remaining.
Another decent chance came and went when captain Rob Hopley headed over from a corner, and the same player volleyed over later in the half.
Shields were determined not to be breached, though, and saw out the victory to claim a crucial three points on a day all those above them in the table dropped points.
The Mariners are back in action on Saturday when they travel to Basford United.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Brown, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Baxter, Lowe, Finnigan (Harmison 50), Gillies, Mason (Foley 85). Subs not used: Lough, Mouanda, Guy.
Goal: Mason (32).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.