Joint manager Lee Picton hailed South Shields’ promotion heroes last night – and then set his sights on another league title.
Shields, skippered by former Sunderland midfielder Julio Arca, secured a third successive promotion with a comfortable 3-0 win over Glossop North End in Evo-Stik North.
And a third championship in a row is within their grasp, with the Mariners needing just five more points from their final four games to wrap it up.
Shields did not look back after Carl Finnigan opened the scoring after just 20 seconds, finishing off a flowing move.
Gavin Cogdon quickly made it two, firing in off the post after being set up by Lee Mason, and he added a third before the half-hour mark, twisting and turning in the box before finding the net via a deflection.
Picton was full of praise for his players after promotion was sealed in front of a crowd of 1,437.
He said: “The players have been exceptional all season, and we can only thank them for their unbelievable commitment, focus and humility.
“Like last season, we’ve all pulled in the same direction and, when you’ve got a dressing room like that, you can achieve some great things.
“We’ve just got a special group of people in that dressing room.
“When the chips have been down, when we’ve needed to dig in, when things haven’t quite gone our way, the vast majority of the time we’ve found the right answers.”
Picton added: “What we have to ensure now is that we go and finish the job.
“We’re in a great position with four games to go.
“A win and a draw would probably be enough to clinch the title, and we’ll aim to do that in the next two games.
“We firmly believe that we’re the best team in this division this season.
“If we didn’t have the trophy at the end of the season to prove that, in our opinions it would be a bit of a travesty.
“We’ll give ourselves a pat on the back now, but we’ll hold back the real celebrations hopefully for when we lift that trophy.”
Glen Taylor fired the equaliser as Spennymoor Town maintained their play-off place in Vanarama National League North thanks to their 1-1 draw against Kidderminster at Harrogate.
Blyth Spartans slipped to a 1-0 home loss to AFC Telford to drop to 11th place.
Gateshead lost to a Scott Rendell goal at Aldershot in the National League Premier.