NORTH Shields moved up four places in the league table following their third win on their travels with a 2-1 success at Esh Winning.
Team boss Graham Fenton was upbeat after the victory.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” he said.
“We were up against a more than useful side and we had to show great character to battle hard and preserve our lead in the second half.”
First half goals from Rob Nolan and Ben Richardson put the Robins in the driving seat and they even had the luxury of seeing a Keith Douglas penalty saved.
With regular custodian Michael Robinson still sidelined through injury and deputy Sean McCafferty unavailable, there was a Friday night headache for the management duo of Fenton and Andy Bowman, but in came Jonathan Ball to don the gloves and play his part in three precious points being secured.
Home keeper Andrew Spence was kept busy during the first 45 minutes, tipping aside a stinging effort from the lively Dean Holmes then again thwarting the Shields forward after neat play from Ben Richardson and Adam Forster and blocking the follow-up from Femi Akinbolu.
Akinbolu, initially starting role as the Robins successfully adjusted their tactics and they took a 32nd minute lead when Nolan latched onto to a long ball from John Hook and cleverly found the net from the most acute of angles.
When Holmes was upended in the box Shields had the chance to extend their advantage but Spence saved the spot kick from Douglas and the former skipper’s 60th goal for the club was put on hold.
It was a sight Robins’ followers hadn’t witnessed before but within two minutes the visitors were in raptures as Richardson won possession, advanced, then unleashed a beauty that cannoned into the net off the post past a bemused keeper.
Early into the second period Spence made a fine save to deny Holmes but increasingly Shields had to dig deep as the hosts introduced the dangerous Ian Ward and racked up the tempo as they kicked down slope and down wind.
Ward headed over when well placed and Ball displayed confident handling as he gathered a succession of crosses.
Esh did pull a goal back with 19 minutes remaining though a push on Joe Elliott went unnoticed by the officials as Stephen Oakley nodded in, giving Ball no chance.
That meant the Shieldsmen are still to keep a clean sheet this campaign but their ranks were not to be breached again at the Waterhouses Ground.
Elliott blocked on the line with Dan Patterson mopping up, Michael Graves saw a drive deflected behind, Ball pushed a Craig Mickle header aside whilst, following a corner, Oakley’s overhead kick came back off the bar.
Late in the game Holmes relieved the pressure with a spirited run and chip that Spence held then was chopped down by Lee Newby who received a second yellow card.
North Shields: Ball, Hook, Patterson, Richardson, Elliott, Harmison, Nolan (Wright 65), Forster, Akinbolu, Douglas, Holmes. Subs (not used): McCrudden, M Robinson, Rowntree. Man of the match: Ben Richardson.
The Robins had to settle for a training session midweek as scheduled opponents Thornaby failed to show, citing travel difficulties.
On Saturday North Shields host third top Darlington RA at the Daren Persson Stadium, kick off 3pm.
Last season in two cracking matches on Tyneside Shields triumphed 5-2 in a league fixture then won a penalty shoot out in the Northern League Cup.
On Tuesday, October 9 the Robins are at Alnwick Town in the Northumberland Senior Cup (7.30pm).