In-form South Shields striker Warren Byrne delivered another finishing masterclass as his hat-trick blew Billingham Town away on a blustery afternoon on Saturday.
Byrne took his tally for the season to 21 with his treble, which paved the way for a 19th consecutive victory for the Mariners.
The 3-1 win at Bedford Terrace moved Shields six points clear at the top of Ebac Northern League Division Two on a day they had to do without a number of key performers.
Injured trio Lewis Galpin, Julio Arca and Lewis Teasdale watched from the sidelines, while Daryll Hall, Adam Sakr and Jonny Wightman were among the other players manager Jon King was not able to call upon.
Less than three minutes into the game, the Mariners broke the deadlock to lay down a marker.
The ball was worked gradually from left to right and to Wayne Phillips, whose shot was parried by home goalkeeper Shaun Scotter. It broke to Byrne, who teased the sprawling Scotter twice as he showed great composure in the box before firing high into the net.
Robert Briggs could have made it two before the 10 minute mark, but he dragged an effort wide from the inside-left of the area.
Shields were playing with the wind at their backs, and restricted Billingham going forward.
A Phillips corner from the right almost went straight in as it bounced off the crossbar, while the next to go close was Briggs as he squeezed through on the inside-right of the box before his shot was stopped by the foot of Scotter.
Billingham failed to clear the ball effectively and so Shields attacked again, and this time Byrne’s 25-yard piledriver was tipped over.
Foley also went close from distance as he whipped an effort just past the post, and Shields were almost caught out at the other end when a cross found its way across to Foster Garton at the back post, and he took a touch before skewing a shot well over.
Phillips and Scroggins went close for Shields before half-time, and after the break, Billingham may have expected to have more joy going forward with the wind behind them. However, the visitors improved and killed the game off.
The Mariners were rewarded for a period of pressure on 55 minutes when Paul Kane and Briggs combined to release Scroggins through the centre, and his inch-perfect ball to Byrne sent the Shields frontman running away from goal on the inside-right of the box. The 33-year-old coolly rolled the ball into the opposite bottom corner as he made it 20 for the season.
Kane and Briggs were both denied before Byrne finished Billingham off with his second hat-trick of the campaign. He picked the ball up outside the box on the right and diagonally dribbled his way past the defence before firing a shot at goal. Scotter could not handle it, and the ball bounced before spinning into the net to send the vocal travelling support into raptures.
Within two minutes of the restart, Byrne almost had a fourth as his audacious chip from a tight angle bounced narrowly wide.
A home packpass in the area led to an indirect free-kick soon after, but Phillips’ powerful effort was blocked by the wall and the home side scrambled it clear.
Substitute Andrew Bulford was denied by an impressive save by Scotter before Billingham got on the scoresheet in stoppage time when Craig Hutchinson finished impressively to deny the Mariners a clean sheet.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Smith, Heptinstall, Turner, Riding, Briggs, Foley (Bulford 70), Scroggins (c), Byrne, Kane, Phillips. Subs not used: Young, Ramsey, Hall.
GOALS: Byrne (3, 55, 65).