Match Preview: Brighouse Town vs South Shields, Evo-Stik North
South Shields are hoping to cement their place at the top of the Evo-Stik North Division on Saturday when they travel to Brighouse Town (3pm kick-off).
The Mariners have won 13 of their 15 league matches so far this season to open up a gap of four points at the top.
They also have five games in hand on second-placed Prescot Cables, and one in hand on third-placed Hyde United, who trail Shields by five points.
Brighouse, meanwhile, head into Saturday’s game sitting third-bottom in the table.
They have won five of their 20 matches on their way to a total of 17 points, with one of their defeats coming at Mariners Park in August, when Shields won 5-0.
Mariners joint manager Lee Picton, though, is not expecting an easy ride at the Dual Seal Stadium.
That follows a difficult encounter with Ramsbottom United a fortnight ago, when Shields had to battle to a 3-2 victory against a team just three points better off than Brighouse.
Picton said: “Despite their position in the table, we think it’s going to be a tough game.
“We’re going to their home patch and don’t know what sort of conditions to expect.
“They’re only six points behind Ramsbottom and they gave us a real challenge, so there’s no reason to expect anything different from Brighouse.
“We beat them 5-0 earlier in the season, and at that stage our pitch was in pristine condition.
“I remember that we had lots of possession, but I don’t think we were actually brilliant that night, despite the scoreline. Saturday will be a different challenge altogether at their place.”
Picton also insists that the message from he and fellow joint manager Graham Fenton is that nothing has been achieved yet by the Mariners this season.
He added: “I’m a firm believer that the biggest challenge comes from within.
“That’s what we’re constantly trying to promote to ensure that the lads are in the best shape mentally going into each game.
“If the players don’t keep their standards and performances at the right level, there will either be someone else in the squad that will do that job for us, or if it becomes a persistent problem, Graham and I would look to strengthen the squad.
“As good as the results have been in the first half of the season, we are certainly not sitting back on our laurels.
“We’re definitely not going to allow the team to drift through the rest of the season and just hope everything falls into place.”
The Mariners have not been in action since the Ramsbottom game two weeks ago, with last Saturday’s home game against Tadcaster Albion having been postponed because of a frozen pitch.
Picton and Fenton opted not to call the players in for training last Saturday, which Fenton is convinced was the right call.
He said: “We’ve got a really professional bunch of lads who are very focused on the job we have to do.
“They know what we’re trying to achieve and are determined not to let anything stop us doing that.
“It’s not ideal when games are called off, but you’ve got to keep your focus and prepare for every game as if it’s going to be on.
“We know it could create a fixture backlog down the line – a little like we had last season – but I’m sure it will be the same for most clubs.
“Last week was our first free Saturday in a long time and we’ve got a big period coming up, so we decided to give the players the day off.
“Sometimes it’s important to give players a bit of a physical rest, but also a mental break as well.
“We had two good training sessions this week where the players were able to refocus. The lads appreciated the day off last Saturday and will be ready to go again this weekend.”
The Mariners have been nursing a number of injury concerns over recent weeks, but the treatment room is starting to clear a little.
There are major doubts over Julio Arca and Jon Shaw heading into Saturday’s fixture, but Shields hope to welcome back the likes of Anthony Callaghan, Darren Lough, Alex Nicholson, Michael Richardson, Barrie Smith and Gavin Cogdon.
Kick-off at the Dual Seal Stadium – which has a post code of HD6 2PN – is at 3pm.
Should the game be in any doubt, please check the club’s official Twitter and Facebook pages for updates.