South Shields MUST beat Scarborough Athletic to keep title hopes alive
South Shields host Scarborough Athletic in a crucial clash this afternoon needing a win to stay in the hunt for automatic promotion.
With two games remaining, the Mariners are third in the Evo-Stik Premier Division, three points behind leaders Farsley Celtic.
If results go their way today, they could climb back to the top of the table, with a big crowd expected at Mariners Park.
Shields remained in title contention on Saturday as Robert Briggs scored a stoppage time equaliser from the penalty spot for the second week running.
Briggs converted a penalty in the 92nd minute at Stafford Rangers, cancelling out a goal scored by the hosts midway through the first half.
The result kept Shields three points behind Farsley, who were themselves held to a 1-1 draw against Hyde United on Saturday, although Warrington Town have now leapfrogged them into second after they won at Stalybridge Celtic.
On arguably the most testing playing surface they have encountered all season, Shields were forced to adapt their tactics at Marston Road.
Their start was effective enough, with Nathan Lowe sending a free-kick over from distance and Luke Daly shooting wide after a ball in from the left by David Foley.
But it was Stafford who took the lead in the 25th minute.
A long throw from the left by Tom Thorley was nodded down to the feet of Theo Bailey-Jones, and he tucked the ball into the bottom corner from 12 yards.
A win for the hosts would have seen them all but ensure survival in the league for another season, but they were almost pegged back immediately when a strike from outside the box by Robert Briggs took a deflection which carried it just wide.
Stafford almost doubled their advantage 11 minutes before half-time when Bailey-Jones let fly from distance, but Liam Connell made a tremendous one-handed save to tip the ball over the bar.
Another opportunity came and went for the home side as Ben Mills forced his way through on the right of the area before drilling a low ball which Connell did well to kick away.
Shields’ best chance to draw level came eight minutes into the second half when a flick-on by Connor Bell was latched onto by Foley, but Stafford goalkeeper Adam Siviter narrowed the angle and kept out his effort.
The Mariners were mainly reduced to half-chances, and another of them went begging as a ball over the top from Jon Shaw found Daly, but he fired past the post.
Bell also saw a shot blocked from a good position as Shields continued to be frustrated.
Stafford almost sealed the points as the game ticked into stoppage time as Jake Charles hit an effort just wide, but there was to be one last twist.
A ball over the top found substitute Josh Gillies, who touched it around Siviter before being bundled to the ground by a defender just inside the box, with the referee pointing to the spot to hand the Mariners a lifeline.
Briggs stepped up and picked out the bottom corner with a nerveless penalty to salvage another point for Shields.
They now know they must, surely, beat seventh-placed Scarborough to stay in contention for the title heading into their final game, away to Gainsborough Trinity on Saturday.
Kick-off at Mariners Park this afternoon is at 3pm, and admission prices are £10 for adults, £8 for students and over-65s, and £3 for under-16s.
Elsewhere today, leaders Farsley Celtic make the difficult trip to Whitby Town, while Warrington have home advantage when they host eight-placed Witton Albion.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter (Adams 68), Lough, Shaw (c), Morse, Lowe, Foley (Gillies 63), Briggs, Harmison, Daly, Bell (Mason 81). Subs not used: Mouanda, Turnbull.
Goal: Briggs (pen 90+2).