By Daniel Prince
South Shields will return to the top of Ebac Northern League Division Two on Saturday if they pick up at least a point against newly-promoted Easington Colliery at Mariners Park.
It is one of just two games on Saturday in the division, with most teams taking part in FA Vase first qualifying round matches. However, both Shields and Easington have been handed byes into the next round.
On a weekend without Premier League football, it would be fantastic to see another bumper crowd at Mariners Park.
The Mariners are expecting a difficult test against Colliery, who were promoted from the Wearside League last season, and have started life in the Northern League well, with 10 points from seven matches.
Their latest win was particularly impressive as they saw off Ryhope CW 4-0 on Monday.
Shields go into the game on a high themselves, though, following Monday’s 1-0 win at neighbours Hebburn Town, and manager Jon King has challenged his players to improve even further, despite the fact they are unbeaten since the opening day of the season.
He said: “We haven’t really hit the heights of the Darlington RA game three weeks ago since then.
“We’ve had some big players missing, as well, especially in the wide areas, with the likes of David Foley, Wayne Phillips and now Adam Sakr.
“We had to change the formation slightly because of that on Monday, and the players coped well with that.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep this run going. We’re unbeaten since the first game of the season, and we’re going well without playing fantastic.
“It will be a tough game, and they will be up for it, as every team will be this season. It seems to be a bit of a cup final for teams when they play us.”
Shields and Easington have faced each other twice in the last 14 months, with Colliery winning on both occasions.
One of those games was a pre-season friendly last summer, while Easington defeated the Mariners 7-3 at Peterlee last season in a Durham Challenge Cup tie nobody who was present is likely to forget.
King added: “Easington have plenty of aggression in the team. They have got some big lads, and they got a fantastic result against Ryhope. I expect this game to be a real battle.
“The lads are very buoyant, and hopefully we should have more lads to choose from on Saturday. We hope to have Wayne Phillips back.
“The discipline cost us last season against Easington. We were very comfortable at 3-1 up, but two lads were sent off and the game went away from us.
“The scoreline of 7-3 should never have happened, and wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for that ill-discipline.”
Kick-off at Mariners Park is at 3pm. After the match, there will be a chance for supporters to watch England’s European Championship qualifier against San Marino in the downstairs bar.
Saturday’s matchday programme features a two-page interview with Stephen Ramsey, who is also featured on the front cover (below). You can buy a copy at the ground for £1.50.