South Shields’ Under-19s suffered an agonising exit from the National League Academy Cup as FC Halifax Town edged a penalty shootout after an entertaining but goalless semi-final tie at 1st Cloud Arena.

There were chances at both ends but the young Mariners arguably edged proceedings in the South Tyneside sunshine, only to be beaten 7-6 on spot-kicks.

A terrific crowd of more than 250 turned out to back Shields, who created an early chance when Joao Gomes dragged his shot just wide of the left post following a brilliant bit of goalkeeping distribution from Callum Dobson, who sent the ball the length of the pitch after saving a free-kick.

Dobson, continuing his fine form in the competition, stopped an almost certain goal on 18 minutes as he parried away a thunderous strike from Halifax’s Jake Hemingway. 

Back up the other end of the pitch, Dan Waldon also had a rocket of a volley saved from close range, denying Shields the goal that their pressure had deserved.

Bryan Taylor kept the home side level heading into the interval with a clearance off the line, but the end of the first half was a quieter affair as the deadlock remained to be broken.

The second half began with another impressive save from Dobson low to his left following a dangerous in-swinging cross from Frankie Sinfield.

The Mariners had chances of their own, too, one of which followed some fine work by Waldon as he beat his man and touched the ball across the face of goal, only to see it cleared just as James McGeorge was about to tap it home. Waldon was also just off target after turning in the box shortly afterwards.

With 74 minutes on the clock, Gomes produced a brilliant showing of hold-up play as he received the ball, held his man off, advanced into an attacking position and rifled a shot at goal which was saved by the Halifax goalkeeper Lewis Hayley.

Halifax number ten Lucas Schofield carried the ball almost the length of the whole of the Shields half on 80 minutes, but couldn’t quite find his finishing touch, dragging his effort wide of the right post. 

The young Mariners piled on the pressure in the closing stages, coming close on a number of occasions, but they couldn’t find the net and after 90 goalless minutes, the tie went straight to a penalty shootout.

Despite some brilliant Shields finishes and an excellent save by Dobson, it was not to be for the hosts as a clinical Halifax side secured a 7-6 win on spot-kicks and progress to the final.

South Shields: Dobson, Watson (Neary 65), Taylor, Thompson, Marriott, Walker (Cresdee 82), Rossiter (Kidd 49), Lukeman (Fletcher 82), Waldon, McGeorge, Gomes.

Image: Kev Wilson.

It has been a tough time for everybody involved with South Shields FC, including the Academy.

After a stellar beginning to the season for our youth side, both training and games have been to a minimum with next to nothing happening at either 1st Cloud Arena or the Washington Hub since before Christmas. 

The Academy attracts some of the most talented young footballers in the North East, and recently Ciaran Lines spoke to three of these players: Jack Watson from Wallsend, Ben Errington from Sunderland and Will Morris from Prudhoe.

With no training happening on the field, running challenges have been set to get the best out of the players during lockdown.

‘Endurance week’ came first, with the challenge being to run the most amount of kilometres within a seven-day period.

Under-17 player Ben Fell won this, with a distance of 53km. For this week, each player was put into a team of their age group to compete against their team-mates of different ages. Ben Errington explained that this “really helped to keep competitiveness alive” among the squad.

The coaches then set the test of completing the fastest 1km run. Will Morris won this, and as a runner myself, I was blown away by his winning time of just two minutes and 46 seconds. I don’t think I need to describe how fast this actually is.

Next came ‘grit week’, ultimately the hardest of the lot.

There were seven different challenges throughout the week, each getting more difficult as they progressed through the days.

If a player failed to complete a challenge they were eliminated, with the idea being that the last man standing on Sunday would win.

There was a three-way tie in the Shields squad, with all three of the players we spoke to going through to a knockout day.

On this day, each player was given two runs to get as much elevation gain as possible overall.

Jack Watson won this by doing reps of the hill leading up to Tynemouth Priory, which from experience I can confirm is a very steep climb to run up once, never mind over and over again. 

With Ben and Will nearing the end of their time in the Shields academy, both are looking to the future.

Ben is aiming to secure for a contract with the first-team but plans to go to stay local and attend Newcastle University to study marketing.

Will, meanwhile, is fielding scholarship offers from American universities to play football across the pond. He then hopes to return to the North East and continue to play football, possibly in the Northern League.

Jack is part of Shields’ Under-17s side within the Academy, and is confident the side can progress in the coming years.

He said: “I think we just take it game by game and hope to progress through the rounds of the FA Youth Cup again and try and go further than we have done previously.”

After Shields’ excellent run to the third round of the competition in 2019-20, Ben and Will also believe the squad can do well in it and are capable of going very far.

In the meantime, we can just hope that everything will be back to normal soon. All are missing the presence of supporters at matches, and the frustration this also provides for players on the field can only be imagined.

South Shields retained the Sam Bartram Memorial Cup after victory over Boldon CA on a wet afternoon in South Tyneside.

A young Shields side started the game with a fast pace, creating plenty of chances with skillful runs down the left wing. Oscar Taylor scored the opening goal for the visitors on eight minutes after some impressive work by Charlie McLeod, who danced through the Boldon defence and layed it off for his team-mate to fire it past the goalkeeper into the roof of the net.

Only a minute later the hosts hit the bar following some quick build up play, but Shields cleared and almost made it two on a rapid counter-attack, with Boldon having lots of work to do at the back.

Some back and forth play led to a Boldon penalty appeal just before 20 minutes but the referee was unmoved, letting the game go on. High pressing from the hosts led to their first shot on target, with a looping ball over from the left into Shields keeper Aaron Steavens, who quickly released the ball to his defence which gave the visitors a chance to go on yet another counter-attack, which was subsequently quashed by Boldon. 

With 15 minutes of the half left to play, former Shields favourite Jonny Wightman netted the leveller with a powerful strike into the roof of the net following some patient build-up play from the hosts. Inspired by their equaliser, the Villa created numerous chances and when Dan Nolan found himself one-on-one, he slotted the ball calmly past the keeper to give his side the lead.

Straight down the other end less than a minute later, Shields levelled it. After a fast build-up, Taylor found himself in the opposition penalty area and rounded the keeper to slot it home for his second of the game, and the equaliser.

End-to-end play finished the half, with both sides having the opportunity to go ahead before the break. Shields keeper Steavens produced a brilliant low save to keep his side level before the whistle blew for half-time.

The second period of play resumed just how the first had ended, with some brilliant work by both sides as there was counter-attack after counter-attack, with Villa eventually winning a penalty as Wightman was fouled in the area. Although Steavens went the right way, Levi Collins put his side ahead from the spot.

A quiet 10 minutes followed until finally, on 73 minutes, Shields had their second equaliser of the afternoon, as substitute Lewis Lukeman raced down the left wing, beating his man and putting it on a plate for another Shields sub, Harry Gardiner, who slotted it home for the visitors.

Shields were now on top and hit the woodwork following a corner on 82 minutes before embarking on numerous further attacks. Their persistence paid off, as three minutes before time a looping cross from the left found the head of James McGeorge, who put it past the keeper for the eventual winner.

Shields keeper Steavens began to gradually lose his voice, barking orders at his defence from between the sticks as the game neared its conclusion. It was a great performance from the youngster, who produced a number of top class saves during the 90 minutes. 

Boldon ended the game strongly as they searched for a goal but couldn’t quite get it, with Shields emerging victorious and retaining the cup with a side full of young talent.

Ex-Shields player Wightman won the home side’s man of the match award, with McLeod also getting a much deserved man of the match award for his brilliant performance. 

Captain Joe Lockey collected the trophy for the visitors after a deserved win for Shields, and a performance to be proud of for all of the young lads on the pitch.

South Shields: Steavens, Morris, Neary, Aldus, Lockey (c), Errington, Ames, Williamson, Taylor, McLeod, Whitehead. Subs: Davey, Gardiner, Lukeman, McGeorge.