Atrocious weather conditions proved to be snow problem for South Shields on Saturday as they battled to an important 3-1 win at Glossop North End.
Snow blizzards and gusts of up to 45mph struck during the Evo-Stik North Division match at the Arthur Goldthorpe Stadium, providing difficulties for players and supporters alike.
Shields battled through, though, and took a crucial three points back to South Tyneside thanks to goals from Carl Finnigan, Jamie Holmes and Robert Briggs.
Their day was made even better when they learned that promotion rivals Scarborough Athletic had been beaten 2-0 at home by Colwyn Bay as Shields’ advantage over the third-placed side increased to five points, with a game in hand.
The teams entered the pitch amid a heavy snow shower, and it was the Mariners who adapted to the conditions better in the early stages.
It took them less than 100 seconds to open the scoring when Darren Lough retrieved the ball on the left of the penalty area and sent it across the box, where Finnigan flicked it home to give the away side a perfect start.
With Gavin Cogdon back in the team after a lay-off with a hamstring injury, Shields looked threatening almost every time they attacked.
They almost made it a quickfire double when Holmes got in behind on the right, but goalkeeper Russell Saunders scrambled his shot behind for a corner.
Saunders also denied Louis Storey as the midfielder tried to convert from a tight angle, and Shields went even closer when Cogdon menacingly brought the ball inside from the right before striking an effort against the post.
Glossop started to gain a foothold in the game towards the half-hour mark, and when Darrhyl Mason got through on the inside-left of the area, Liam Connell had to be alert to make a smart stop.
A short period of pressure paid off when Glossop – with the wind at their backs – levelled as a ball across goal by Callum Spooner was converted from close range by Benjamin Richardson.
Shields’ response was instant, and within two minutes they had restored their advantage.
Cogdon was again central to things as he sprinted in behind on the right before squaring for Holmes, who forced the ball over the line with a sliding finish.
An big opportunity fell the way of Finnigan six minutes before the break, but after Cogdon squared the ball from the right, he was unable to get clean contact on it and the chance went begging.
Shields almost paid for that in first half stoppage time when Richardson let fly from distance for the hosts, but Connell brilliantly tipped the ball over the bar to maintain his side’s lead.
The Mariners started the second half well, and almost went in front as Holmes ran through on goal, but Saunders did well to stretch out a leg and force the ball wide.
From the resulting corner, though, arguably the key moment of the game swung it decisively in Shields’ favour.
Briggs swung it in from the left and it was flicked on to Finnigan, who sent a header back towards goal.
Richardson tipped it over the bar with his hand, and after the referee spotted the infringement, he had no option other than to send off the Glossop goalscorer and award Shields a penalty.
Briggs sent Saunders the wrong way from the spot to all but wrap up the points.
The remainder of the game was a lesson in keep-ball from the Mariners as they conserved energy ahead of a hectic run of fixtures.
In all, it was a job well done for Shields as they remained two points behind leaders Hyde United, with three games in hand.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw, Morse, Arca (c) (Pattison 77), Storey, Briggs, Cogdon (Armstrong 67), Finnigan (Mason 57), Holmes. Subs not used: Woolston, Ross.
Goals: Finnigan (2), Holmes (33), Briggs (pen 53).