Match Report: Blyth Spartans 5-3 South Shields
Sam Hodgson scored twice as South Shields were involved in an eight-goal pre-season thriller with Blyth Spartans at Croft Park on Tuesday.
The Mariners found themselves on the wrong end of a 5-3 scoreline despite displaying many encouraging signs, with summer arrival Michael Woods also earning a place on the scoresheet with a sumptuous volley.
For the second friendly in succession, Shields manager Kevin Phillips opted to change his entire starting XI at half-time as several players took their cumulative pre-season game-time to the 90 minute mark.
The away side started brightly and there was early encouragement provided by an eye-catching link-up between Josh Doherty and Hodgson. Within two minutes, a cross from Doherty was nudged goalwards by Hodgson and saved by Blyth goalkeeper Alex Mitchell.
Spartans sprung into life in the ninth minute, though, with JJ O’Donnell forcing a parry from Callum Dobson before sending the rebound into the path of Corey McKeown, who finished sharply from close range.
The Mariners were quickly level, with the connection between Doherty and Hodgson this time resulting in a goal as the former’s cross was controlled by the striker, who then finished deftly with his other foot to open his account for pre-season.
Shields largely dominated the next period of the game, with Darius Osei sending a shot over before Hodgson was sent through on goal by a Dobson kick and was hauled down by Rhys Evans, who was shown a yellow card which could easily have been red.
Blyth then took control. O’Donnell hit the bar with a looping header and later forced a block from Shields’ trialist defender, but Shields could not avoid falling behind for much longer.
In fact, it was much worse than that for the visitors, who were caught in a Spartans whirlwind as Terry Mitchell’s side scored three times in just four minutes.
Lewis McNall headed them back in front before McKeown and O’Donnell produced clinical finishes to hand the home team a three-goal lead.
A close-range effort from Hodgson to double his tally reduced the arrears, with the forward converting a low ball from Osei.
An entirely changed Shields XI continued in that vein after half-time,
Ntumba Massanka twice went close and Jordan Hunter drew a stop from Mitchell before Michael Woods made it 4-3 with an eye-catching volley as he cushioned a Blair Adams cross into the roof of the net.
The Mariners had the momentum and created chances for an equaliser, but Mitchell saved from Adams and Mackenzie Heaney to avert the danger.
The eighth and final goal ultimately went the way of the hosts, with Jordan Hickey finding the bottom corner from the edge of the box to seal his side’s victory.
The final minutes saw Heaney denied by Mitchell and the welcome return of former Shields player Josh Gillies in a Blyth shirt after he recovered from a long-term injury.
From a Mariners perspective, there were plenty of positives as a mixture of youthful prospects, experienced campaigners and new arrivals continued to gel and got vital minutes in the tank.
They face their third test of pre-season when they host League Two side Barrow at 1st Cloud Arena on Saturday.
First half line-up: Dobson, Lukeman, Doherty, Broadbent (c), Trialist, Smith, Osei, McGowan, Hodgson, Jenkins, Gomes.
Second half line-up: Boney, Hunter, Adams (c), Liddle, Bodenham, Woods, Briggs, McGeorge, Heaney, Kidd (McArthur 73), Massanka.
Goals: Hodgson (14, 39), Woods (65).