South Shields close gap at top of Northern League with battling win at Ryhope
Andrew Stephenson's second half stunner secured a vital three points for South Shields on Saturday '“ as title rivals North Shields slipped up.
The Mariners battled to a 2-1 win at Ryhope Colliery Welfare, closing the gap on leaders North Shields to 14 points after the Robins lost 2-0 at Shildon.
Second-placed South Shields have five games in hand, and still have to travel to North Shields in just less than a fortnight.
If they do go on to overhaul their rivals, the Mariners may look back on Saturday as a vital day in the title race.
They were not at their best against Ryhope, but ultimately did enough to keep their remarkable winning run going. It now stands at 26 games.
Ryhope did not let them have it all their own way on a glorious afternoon on Wearside, despite a blistering start from Shields.
They could have gone ahead within the first minute when Alex Nicholson’s ball over the top was raced onto by Carl Finnigan, but he fired narrowly wide.
Other half opportunities came and went before the Mariners were awarded a penalty for a foul on Finnigan.
He stepped up to send home goalkeeper Antony Lowerson the wrong way from the spot and notch his 24th goal of the season.
Lowerson did enough to keep out another effort from Finnigan soon after, while Gavin Cogdon volleyed over as Shields increased the pressure.
However, the second goal did not arrive, and Ryhope did well to battle back into the game.
They got back on level terms thanks to a terrific goal from Josh Home-Jackson, as he drove forward from halfway before striking a superb effort into the top corner from 25 yards.
Shields – who rested the likes of Liam Connell, Julio Arca, Jon Shaw, Wayne Phillips, Craig Baxter, Darren Lough and Michael Richardson – could have reclaimed the lead before half-time, but Lowerson pushed away Robert Briggs’ free-kick.
Shaw was introduced at half-time, and the Mariners pushed on after the break.
Shaw hit the post within five minutes of being brought on as he met Stephenson’s corner with a header, while Cogdon flashed an effort nattowly over and Finnigan had a shot deflected inches 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 debutant goalkeeper Pete 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, David 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.
It was the start of a vital week for the Mariners, who host Newton Aycliffe tomorrow and then travel to Sunderland RCA on Thursday as they aim to maintain the pressure on North Shields at the top.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Jameson, Baxter, 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).