NORTH Shields had the points sewn up by the 25th minute of Saturday’s potentially difficult clash away to Birtley Town, as they established a 3-0 lead.
All were converted by top marksman Robbie Nolan, taking his league tally for the Shieldsmen this campaign to a quarter of a century whilst he’s also chipped in with half a dozen cup-tie goals.
The hat-trick hero was unable to resume after the break through injury but by then his side were well in command and saw out the second period with the minimum of alarm.
In recent seasons the points had been shared by the clubs and, though, Birtley had knocked the Robins off the FA Cup trail after a replay before the league season had even started, Shields exacted revenge through a single Michael McKeown strike at the Daren Persson Stadium in November.
McKeown was side-lined for this clash alongside Femi Akinbolu, John Hook and Michael McMullen with Sean McCafferty again deputising for Michael Robinson between the posts.
Team boss Graham Fenton was a happy man after the 90 minutes.
He said: “It made a change for us to take all of our chances early on.
“That made it reasonably comfortable for us and I was delighted at the way the lads kept their shape and discipline in the second half when we could have added to our tally.”
Shields were celebrating with a mere two minutes on the clock as Kieran Wrightson combined with skipper Dan Patterson down the left flank and, when the cross came over, Nolan was on hand to tuck the ball home.
Birtley custodian Andy Mallinson did well to parry an Adam Forster stinging drive and the hosts weren’t too far away when Steven Graham’s effort flew just over the bar.
Jon Hall all but touched in a Ben Richardson flag kick at the other end before Dean Holmes ran at the home defence, supplied Nolan, who clinically did the rest.
The cheering had barely died down before midfield maestro and man of the match Paul Watson slipped a telling pass through to Nolan and once more Mallinson was picking the ball out of the net.
In a match well officiated by Paul Mosley there continued to be opportunities conjured up at both ends with the two teams thwarted by the crossbar either side of half time.
Birtley’s James Allsopp was first to be denied whilst Watson all but bagged the Robins’ fourth following some great work by Forster.
Shields substitutes Keith Douglas, Stewart Wright and Phil Robinson all played their part with all three used by the 62nd minute as the visitors adeptly saw out the victory though Birtley never gave up and missed a guilt-edged chance after McCafferty blocked from Ben Johnson with the rebound somehow kept out by a valiant slide on the line.
McCafferty dealt confidently with all that came at him with his defenders again immaculate in front to keep another clean sheet.
Shields thought they had added to their tally after Douglas finished off a flowing move involving Holmes and Robinson but an offside flag ruled it out.
North Shields: McCafferty, Hall (Douglas 35), Patterson, Richardson, Harmison, Elliott, Forster (P Robinson 62), Watson, Nolan (Wright 46), Wrightson, Holmes. Subs not used: McCabe, Grey.
Shields visit West Allotment Celtic on Good Friday (noon kick-off).
On Easter Monday the Robins are at Darlington RA (11am) and at Morpeth Town on Wednesday (7.30pm) before entertaining Stokesley on Saturday, April 6 (3pm).