South Shields took another important step in their promotion bid as they deservedly won 2-0 at rivals Team Northumbria on Saturday.
The Mariners put in a fine display at Coach Lane, nullifying the threat of their talented hosts before causing significant damage at the other end.
The first goal, which came courtesy of a Julio Arca penalty midway through the first half, had been coming, and Martyn Coleman added a second at a perfect time just before the hour mark as Shields responded to a decent home spell.
The win did not move Jon King’s side any further clear at the top of Northern League Division Two – victories for Ryhope CW, Billingham Synthonia and Chester-le-Street saw to that – but they did go 12 points clear of Team Northumbria, who started the day third, and still have a game in hand on the students.
A travelling support estimated to be about 350 in a crowd of 402 was certainly not disappointed as the Mariners made it five successive victories in all competitions.
King went with a midfield trio of Arca, Robert Briggs and captain Leepaul Scroggins, and they pulled the strings, while Danny Carson lined up as part of a new-look centre back pairing with Ibby Hassan.
Shields made their intentions clear from the outset, with Wayne Phillips sending a stunning cross-field ball into the path of David Foley, who cut in from the right before whistling a low shot just wide.
However, they almost found themselves behind on nine minutes when home captain Matthew Tumilty powered a free-kick against the crossbar from 20 yards.
It was the visitors who looked the more dangerous, though, with Foley in particular a constant threat to the Team Northumbria back four as he had a number of efforts blocked.
One of those led to a corner which was taken quickly, and Arca’s pass to Briggs on the edge of the box almost led to a goal, but the midfielder curled it just wide.
In the next attack, though, came a vital moment. Coleman nicked the ball off a home defender and committed goalkeeper Steven Mundy, who made two desperate attempts to take it off him before going to ground and pulling the striker down for a penalty.
Arca claimed the ball, and the former Sunderland and Middlesbrough star coolly sent Mundy the wrong way from the spot as he placed it low into the net for his eighth goal of the season.
That sparked the league leaders into life even more as their confidence began to show.
Briggs almost played Foley through on goal, but a home defender just managed to touch it away, while Coleman narrowly failed to convert a Briggs free-kick from the right.
Mundy did well to deny Foley soon after, while at the other end, the closest the hosts came to breaking through in the first half was when Samuel Perez – brother of Newcastle United forward Ayoze – was almost played in by a ball over the top, but Shields dealt with it well.
Foley nearly added a glittering goal six minutes before the break as he unleashed an unstoppable drive from 25 yards, but the effort rattled the crossbar.
Team Northumbria – who were looking to extend their 12-match unbeaten run in the league – came out for the second half with added purpose, and Kevin Carr was denied by a good stop from Shields goalkeeper Scott Pocklington.
The Mariners ended the good spell of the home side in the best possible fashion, though, as they added a second goal which effectively killed the game off.
After some good play down the left, the creative Briggs forced a ball through to Coleman, who latched onto it and went to ground before sliding it into the net.
It was the impressive striker’s third goal in two appearances for Shields since joining from Penrith last week.
The away side motored on as they looked to make the scoreline even more convincing, and Briggs again released Coleman in their next attack, only for Mundy to this time deny him with a foot.
Briggs was again the creator when Foley sent a half volley not far wide, but Shields were unable to add a third.
They did keep out the students at the other end, though, with substitute Ryan Redford slicing wide after a good move before Michael Turner did brilliantly to clear a dangerous cross from Sam Read.
Mechack Kanda was brought on by Shields with 13 minutes left, and almost had an incredible introduction when he beat his man with his first touch before hitting a shot just over.
Foley and Coleman were also denied in quick succession, before Barrie Smith went even closer when he carried the ball from the right before his superb effort hit the post. Foley was first to the rebound, but saw his shot blocked.
Scroggins almost added his name to the scoresheet when he got his head on the end of a left-wing cross by Coleman, but Mundy kept it out, while the closest the students came to a consolation was when they headed wide from a free-kick late on.
Shields became just the second team to take maximum points from Coach Lane this season as they underlined their title credentials with a composed performance.
They will hope to keep up their good form on Wednesday, when they travel to Billingham Synthonia in the quarter-final of the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Smith, Grey (Turner 72), Hassan, Carson, Arca, Foley, Scroggins (c), Coleman, Briggs, Phillips (Kanda 77). Subs not used: Young, Teasdale, Hall.
Goals: Arca (pen 20), Coleman (59).