Match Preview: South Shields vs Mickleover, The Pitching In Northern Premier League
South Shields make their long-awaited return to competitive action on Saturday as they welcome Mickleover to 1st Cloud Arena (3pm kick-off).
It is the Mariners’ first outing for a competitive match since last December and they go into it having won five of their seven pre-season fixtures.
They are up against the side which sat top of the Pitching In Northern Premier League table when the 2020-21 campaign was curtailed.
Mickleover recovered well from a 3-0 opening day defeat at 1st Cloud Arena to win seven of their next nine matches and under manager John McGrath, they are set to provide Shields with an early test of their credentials.
The Mariners will be buoyed by the prospect of playing their first league game without crowd limits imposed because of the pandemic since March 2020, though, and manager Graham Fenton believes the return of supporters will provide his players with a huge boost.
He said: “It’s hugely exciting to be returning to competitive football and all the players are eager to get back out there.
“This will be the first league match we’ve played without crowd limits related to the pandemic since March 2020 and we know what a difference our brilliant supporters can make, so we can’t wait for the game to come around.
“We go into it feeling generally happy with how things went in pre-season and the different problems we were able to solve.
“There were some inconsistencies, but that was fully expected because of the lack of game-time the lads had experienced over the previous eight months. We’re confident that rustiness is gone now.
“We’re expecting a highly competitive encounter against a team which had a very impressive start to last season, so it should be an interesting first test for us.”
Shields fans could catch a glimpse of new signings Conor Tee, Ntumba Massanka, Will McGowan and Jack Bodenham, all of whom joined the club in the summer.
Fenton says “one or two” others could arrive in the coming weeks, with the Mariners remaining patient in their pursuit of arrivals as they seek to find the right balance for their squad.
He has praised his players for the way they committed to the work laid out for them in pre-season, and now admits everyone involved feels a level of responsibility to deliver for the supporters.
Fenton added: “It’s such a relief to have competitive football to look forward to again after what has obviously been a hugely challenging period for everyone in society.
“Now we’re hopefully getting back to some sort of normality, we feel it’s almost a responsibility of ours to bring some joy into the lives of people who have had it tough over the last 18 months. We’ll be giving it everything we’ve got to do that.
“The players have worked exceptionally hard in pre-season and I’d like to personally thank them for all the effort they have put in. Hopefully we will reap the rewards of that hard work.”
Kick-off is at 3pm and the turnstiles will open at 12.30pm. Tickets will remain available to purchase until 12pm on the day of the game by clicking here, but supporters can also pay at the gate at prices of £10 for adults, £8 for concessions and £3 for under-16s.
After the match there will be live music from Bottle Rocket in the marquee, with a selection of delicious food available to enjoy too.