Robert Briggs struck a terrific late winner as South Shields battled to a 1-0 victory over Warrington Rylands at 1st Cloud Arena on Saturday.
Just days after becoming a father for the first time, the long-serving midfielder came off the bench to settle a tense encounter as the Mariners moved to within two points of the Pitching In Northern Premier League summit.
Shields’ third consecutive clean sheet also saw them stifle the league’s top scorers, who regularly showed their attacking threat but were unable to find a way past Myles Boney.
The Mariners went into the game in positive mood after a hard-fought 1-0 win at Liversedge four days earlier, but it quickly became apparent that they were in for another real battle on home soil.
Rylands boasted two of the league’s top three goalscorers in Callum Dolan and Kane Drummond, and both players proved difficult to handle.
There were frequent attempts on goal from Dolan in the early stages, although most of them were from distance and comfortably dealt with by Shields.
Dolan saw two strikes blocked by Gary Liddle and one saved by Boney within the first seven minutes, before going closer with a powerful hit from distance which Boney pushed wide.
Rylands were relentless in their attacking play, but Shields repelled them and had a sight of goal of their own when Dylan Mottley-Henry came inside from the right and forced Joel Torrance into a smart stop.
Martin Smith also eyed a goal with a piece of opportunistic play when he collected possession near the halfway line, but his audacious lob cleared the crossbar.
Boney made a tremendous save four minutes before half-time when Dolan let fly from the right of the box and the ball arrowed towards the top of the net, only for the goalkeeper to dive full stretch and tip it onto the bar.
The Mariners improved after the break but Rylands had the first opportunity, with Dolan again going close with a sweet low strike which dropped just wide.
Mackenzie Heaney provided a spark for the home side and saw one shot saved by Torrance and another drop just wide as Shields searched for a breakthrough.
Briggs had been introduced at the interval and he was at the heart of much of the hosts’ bright play before lighting up the game by delivering its one moment of true quality in the 83rd minute.
Shields probed well and Mottley-Henry worked some space on the left of the box before teasing in a low delivery which found its way to Briggs, who caressed the ball into the top corner with a superb strike from 12 yards.
That was all it took for the Mariners to claim maximum points and climb to second in the table after a difficult encounter at 1st Cloud Arena.
Shields are back in action next Saturday when they travel to Warrington Town in the Isuzu FA Trophy.
South Shields: Boney, Newton, Broadbent, Liddle, Morse, Smith (Ross 72), Mottley-Henry, Woods (Gomes 82), Russ (Briggs 46), Heaney, Adams (c). Subs not used: Doherty, Hunter.
Goal: Briggs (83).
Image: Kev Wilson.