A Robert Briggs inspired South Shields come out on top in hard-fought tussle with Warrington Town
South Shields withstood a late Warrington Town fightback to record an important 3-2 victory at a bustling 1st Cloud Arena on Saturday.
The Mariners roared into a two-goal advantage within the first half-hour as a close range Alex Kempster finish was followed by a composed penalty from Robert Briggs.
Briggs added a second spot-kick early in the second half to provide added comfort for Shields and ensure that goals from Jordan Buckley and substitute Dom Reed did not earn them any points.
The result kept Shields two points clear at the top of the Pitching In Northern Premier League as they maintained their unbeaten start to the league campaign.
The Mariners had tasted defeat seven days previously, though, as they were beaten 3-0 by Marske United in the second qualifying round of the Emirates FA Cup.
Those expecting there to a hangover from that loss proved to be mistaken as Shields started firmly on the front foot.
Graham Fenton opted to make one change to his starting line-up although it was a significant one, with Will McGowan replacing Ntumba Massanka and Jon Shaw moved up-front, with Robert Briggs pushed back into defence.
It took just five minutes for the new-look Shields to take the lead as a well-worked corner routine reaped dividends.
Briggs clipped the ball in from the left and after it was headed back across the area by Dillon Morse, Darius Osei nodded it goalwards. It may have been heading in but Kempster made sure by sticking out his boot and forcing it home from close range for his first goal of the season.
Shields were well aware of Warrington’s capabilities, having faced numerous problems against the Yellows over the last three seasons.
They possessed a clear threat when given space to work in, and fired a warning to Shields when Jack Mackreth advanced down the right of the area and sent in a low cross which Myles Boney did well to clear with a foot.
The majority of the bright attacking play came at the other end, though, and the Mariners had a second opportunity as Kempster nodded the ball back to Conor Tee and his goalbound drive was deflected over.
It was an impressive start by Shields but Warrington remained in the game and went close to equalising with a pure hit from distance by Jordan Buckley which whistled narrowly over Boney’s crossbar.
The near miss at the other end did not deter the Mariners, and they were awarded a penalty shortly before the half-hour mark when Tee controlled the ball beautifully before dancing past a defender and being fouled in the area.
Briggs – who had failed to convert his most recent penalty, at Radcliffe – made no mistake from 12 yards as he sent Atherton the wrong way to double the home side’s lead.
Warrington had a golden opportunity to halve their deficit less than a minute into the second half as Josh Amis turned in the area and powered an effort just over.
Rolling back the years in his striking role, Shaw almost added his name to the scoresheet soon after as Osei found him with a cross from the right of the box and his strike was beaten away by Atherton, before he sent the rebound wide.
Shields did not have to wait too much longer for the third goal, which again arrived via the penalty spot after McGowan had brilliantly found Kempster and he was tripped on the left of the area. For the second time, Briggs sent Atherton the wrong way to extend his side’s advantage.
The Mariners were playing with real confidence and that was underlined when Dan Martin switched the ball onto his left foot before unleashing a sweet strike which was destined for the net before being brilliantly blocked by Warrington captain Mark Roberts.
The Yellows were not in the mood for giving up and pulled a goal back shortly afterwards as Jordan Buckley used his strength to force his way through down the right before finding the bottom corner with a low effort.
Fenton introduced Callum Stead from the bench for his debut as he replaced Shaw on 69 minutes, with Nathan Lowe brought on four minutes later as he made his first appearance since late-August after recovering from a hamstring injury.
The substitutions came as Shields looked to wrestle back control after a period of pressure by Warrington which saw Boney forced into impressive saves from Roberts and Amis.
Lowe, meanwhile, almost made an immediate impact as he shifted the ball onto his left foot and forced Atherton into a low save with an effort from the edge of the area.
Reid ensured it would be a nervy finish for the Mariners as he volleyed home from close range with five minutes left but the hosts responded well, with substitute Will Jenkins twice forcing Atherton into saves and Lowe also denied by the goalkeeper.
The nerves continued to jangle but there was to be no late equaliser for the visitors as Shields saw the game out.
The Mariners are back in action at 1st Cloud Arena on Tuesday as they host Lancaster City in the Pitching In Northern Premier League.
South Shields: Boney, Martin, Bodenham, Shaw (Stead 69), Morse, Ross (c), McGowan (Jenkins 82), Briggs, Osei, Tee (Lowe 73), Kempster. Subs not used: Hodgson, Massanka.
Goals: Kempster (5), Briggs (pen 29, pen 56).