South Shields won the Northern League title for the first time in the club’s history with a 4-1 victory on a memorable night at Ashington on Tuesday.
Roared on by a huge travelling support in a crowd of over 1,000, Shields raced into a three-goal lead inside the first 18 minutes to take a tight grip on the three points.
Although the Colliers came into it more in the second half and pulled a goal back, there was no stopping the Mariners.
Gavin Cogdon struck in stoppage time to add to the first half goals from David Foley (2) and Michael Richardson as Shields moved into an unassailable position at the top of the table.
What followed were euphoric scenes as players and staff celebrated with the supporters, with champagne flowing and the crowd serenading their heroes.
The Mariners had at one stage in the season trailed then-leaders North Shields by 17 points, albeit with five games in hand, but have now sealed the title with a match to spare.
They went into the game at Ashington knowing maximum points would be enough, but suffered a blow on the day of the game when Carl Finnigan – who had scored four goals in his previous two games – was ruled out through injury.
The match did not start in the best manner, either, with Ashington missing a decent early chance when former Shields striker Andrew Bulford turned a knockdown by Ben Harmison wide.
At the other end, the first sighter for the Mariners came when Cogdon headed the ball to Richardson, and he hit a volley not far wide.
The deadlock was broken in the 11th minute when Robert Briggs took a quick throw on the right, allowing Foley to get in behind and fire a shot into the bottom corner for his 31st goal of the season.
He had to wait just four more minutes for goal number 32, and again Briggs was the creator.
This time it was a more orthodox assist for the midfielder as he brilliantly beat the defence with a through ball, allowing Foley to run through, touch the ball around goalkeeper Conor Grant and gratefully stroke it into an empty net.
If that gave Ashington a mountain climb, it was all but game over in the 18th minute.
A ball forward led to confusion between Grant and a defender outside the penalty area and the Ashington duo collided, with the ball bouncing to Richardson, who superbly lifted it over the top of them and into the net via a bounce.
Richardson almost followed Foley in scoring his brace when he was played through on Grant by Barrie Smith, but this time the goalkeeper made a good save to foil the Shields man.
With the job almost done, the Mariners perhaps subconsciously took their foot off the pedal as Ashington came more into proceedings.
Former Shields trialist Luke Salmon volleyed an effort over and Bulford saw a shot deflected wide, but the Colliers were unable to get on the scoresheet before the break to put some pressure on their visitors.
In fact, it could have been four before half-time, only for a shot from Briggs to go past the post.
Ashington were better in the second half, with Shields unable to get a strong hold of possession or threaten in the key areas.
Salmon went closest for the home side when he drilled an attempt narrowly wide, while Bulford was also not far away with an effort after being found in the area.
The hosts got the goal their play arguably deserved when substitute Ryan McGorrigan got hold of a loose ball in the box and did brilliantly to flick it over Liam Connell and in.
Shields were still comfortable enough to feel very confident of seeing out the game, but did more than that as it ticked into the second minute of stoppage time.
Cogdon captalised on a slip from a home defender to run in on goal from the inside-right channel and rifle a shot into the roof of the net to really get the party started.
The joyous scenes at the end are unlikely to ever be forgotten by any of those with a Shields persuasion who witnessed them as appreciation for a terrific league season was shown.
The Mariners will complete their league programme on Saturday by travelling to Guisborough Town.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Smith, Callaghan (Storey 67), Shaw, Lough, Arca (c) (Holden 47), Briggs, Phillips (Petrache 77), Cogdon, Richardson, Foley. Subs not used: Jameson, Stephenson.
Goals: Foley (11, 15), Richardson (18), Cogdon (90+2).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
2016-17 has been another record-breaking year at South Shields FC – on and off the pitch.
Right at the centre of it has been the club’s supporters, who have contributed hugely to a memorable season which has seen the Mariners win promotion and reach three cup finals, with four trophies still up for grabs.
Though arguably the campaign’s most important moments are yet to come, the club has completed its programme of home fixtures for the season.
A crowd of 2,054 at Saturday’s match against Morpeth Town saw the average attendance for the season at Mariners Park increase to 1,275 across 31 games in all competitions.
The total number of fans who passed through the turnstiles was 39,527 – almost doubling last season’s total of 20,971, when there was an average attendance of 723.1 a game.
Crowd favourite Barrie Smith has paid tribute to the supporters for their incredible backing throughout the season.
He said: “The connection we have with the fans is massively important for us.
“I’ve always had a good rapport with them, and we all appreciate the support they give.
“They play a massive part, and help us get through games sometimes when it might not be going well.
“This has been another memorable season for us and they have been a huge part of that.
“It would be nowhere near as enjoyable without them.”
The support has been particularly impressive in the Buildbase FA Vase run, with two crowds of over 3,000 at Mariners Park, as well as some terrific away followings.
Most notable, perhaps, was the brilliant turnout at the Team Solent away match, when well over 400 supporters made the journey to the south coast to back the Mariners.
Smith added: “Everyone saw the impact they had in Southampton. It was incredible how many people travelled down there.
“Everyone is getting behind us and it’s great that they’re enjoying it.
“We always just want to repay them by winning games and making them happy.
“They pay their hard-earned money to come and watch us and we have a duty to always try our hearts out for them and do everything in our power to get them the results they want.”
Season tickets for the 2017-18 campaign, which will see Shields compete in the Evo-Stik League, are not yet on sale.
However, supporters are advised to monitor the club’s social media accounts and website for details in the coming weeks and months.
Tickets for the Durham Challenge Cup final at Hartlepool United against Billingham Synthonia, which will take place on Wednesday, May 3, remain on sale from Mariners Park. They cost £5 for adults and £2 for concessions, and can be bought by visiting the ground or calling 0191 454 7800.
Over 9,000 tickets have been sold to Shields fans for the FA Vase final against Cleethorpes Town at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, May 21. They cost £25 for adults, £10 for concessions and £1 for under-16s, and can be bought from the FA’s ticketing website by clicking here.
The Mariners’ other eagerly-awaited final this season will see them go up against North Shields at Whitley Bay’s Hillheads ground in the League Cup on Saturday, May 6. Ticket details are awaited and will be announced as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Shields have just two league fixtures left this season – both away from home – as they aim to win the title.
They travel to Ashington on Tuesday, April 18 for a 7.30pm kick-off, and Guisborough Town on Saturday, April 22 for a 3pm kick-off. Admission can be paid at the turnstiles for both matches.
The club would like to thank all supporters for their continued outstanding support.
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
Julio Arca has been rewarded for his fine form throughout March with the Shaun Matthias Player of the Month award.
It was a month which saw South Shields win all six of their fixtures.
Arca was particularly inspirational in the two-legged Buildbase FA Vase semi-final victory over Coleshill Town, and the dramatic comeback win with 10 men against Sunderland RCA.
This is a second Player of the Month award of the season for Arca, who also picked up the prize for October.
He is pictured picking up his latest award from Scott Calvert, trainee estimator with club sponsor Shaun Matthias, based on Stanhope Road, South Shields.
The club would like to again thank Shaun Matthias for their continued support of the award.