Robert Briggs scored a superb second half winner as South Shields deservedly took the spoils in the bank holiday Monday derby meeting with Morpeth Town at a buoyant 1st Cloud Arena.
The game was locked at 0-0 until Briggs’ brilliant lob 17 minutes before the end rewarded the Mariners’ territorial dominance and ensured they leapfrogged their opponents in the early Pitching In Northern Premier League table.
Kevin Phillips’ side were made to work for the points, but the breakthrough was warranted when it came as Shields’ strong and unbeaten start to the campaign continued.
There were three changes to the Shields team which started at Nantwich Town three days earlier, with Mackenzie Heaney, Robert Briggs and Sam Hodgson introduced in place of Joao Gomes and injured duo Blair Adams and Dylan Mottley-Henry.
It proved to be a frustrating first half for the Mariners, who dominated possession and territory but were unable to make Dan Lowson work in the Morpeth goal.
Shields retrieved the ball in the Morpeth half several times in the opening 45 minutes, but the breakthrough proved elusive as the Highwaymen stood firm.
The hosts were mainly restricted to strikes from distance, with Martin Smith and Josh Doherty both clearing the crossbar within the first quarter-hour.
Lewis Alessandra had a strike deflected wide from 20 yards and Hodgson was unable to get his volley on target from a tight angle after being found by a Conor Newton cross.
That was about as close as they got before the break, although they will have taken positives into their team talk through the way they had largely controlled proceedings.
An increase in tempo is likely to have been the order at the interval and Shields had a strong shout for a penalty within four minutes of the restart, but a challenge on Josh Doherty on the inside-left of the area was not judged to be a foul.
There was also a 20 yard strike by Hodgson which was blocked and a shot from further out by Michael Woods which drifted wide as the Mariners continued in their attempts to put the Morpeth back line under pressure.
Alessandra and Hodgson were starting a game together for the first time and they almost combined for a goal shortly before the hour mark, but Chris Reid headed clear for the visitors just as Hodgson looked set to head in at the back post. The ball broke to Smith but his effort from distance was blocked.
Shields went closer still when Robert Briggs teed up Woods on the edge of the box and his powerful first-time shot was brilliantly saved by the feet of Lowson. Morpeth struggled to get the ball clear and it struck Briggs before rolling into the net, but the offside flag controversially cut the hosts’ celebrations short.
The Mariners were enjoying their most threatening spell as Morpeth struggled to escape their own half, with the match becoming increasingly feisty as it entered the final 20 minutes.
The reward came in the 73rd minute, and it was delicious.
Smith brilliantly found Briggs with a ball over the top and his first touch was exquisite as he lifted it over Lowson and into the roof of the net to spark joyous scenes among the crowd of 2,234.
Mackenzie Heaney had a sight of goal shortly afterwards, but his free-kick from 25 yards was seen wide by Lowson.
Morpeth were now chasing the game and showed greater urgency. They fired a warning with a half-volley from the edge of the box by Ryan Donaldson which Myles Boney held in the Shields goal.
Briggs almost doubled his account with a low free-kick from just outside the area which went narrowly wide and there was a chance for Alessandra to wrap it up, but he fired past the post after being played in down the left.
There was inevitably some tension in the final minutes with Shields protecting a slender lead, but the nerves did not get to the hosts as they saw out a well-earned victory.
They are back in action on Saturday, at home to Workington in the Emirates FA Cup.
South Shields: Boney, Newton, Doherty, Liddle (c), Morse, Smith, Heaney, Woods, Hodgson, Briggs (McGowan 90+3), Alessandra. Subs not used: Dobson, Gomes, Bodenham, McGeorge.
Goals: Briggs (73).
Image: Kev Wilson.