Carl Finnigan was in the thick of the action as South Shields marked their first game in EVO-STIK North with a 2-1 win at Trafford.
Finnigan scored what proved to be the winner in the second half, but was controversially sent off in stoppage time after an altercation with a member of Trafford’s coaching staff.
Shields were given a stern test of their credentials at Shawe View Stadium, and fell behind six minutes before half-time when a shot across the face of goal was turned in by former Halifax Town and Chorley striker James Dean.
Jon Shaw headed in the Mariners’ first goal of the season a minute into first half stoppage time to send the teams in level at the break, and Shields went on to battle to victory in the second half.
It was a tough baptism in the Northern Premier League for the Mariners as they played their first game at that level since the club reformed in 1974.
They were up against a Trafford side which finished just one place outside the EVO-STIK North play-off positions last season, and are being tipped to launch another promotion challenge in the forthcoming campaign.
Both sides had good spells in the first half, but the Mariners had the better of the chances.
The first of them came after impressive interplay between Finnigan and Jamie Holmes on the left of the area, which led to an effort by the latter which hit the side netting.
The Mariners had particular joy with set pieces, from which most of their first half opportunities came.
An early sighter came the way of Shaw, who met a Matty Pattison corner at the near post, only to see his effort go wide of the opposite post.
A better chance fell to Holmes soon after, with a flowing move down the right leading to a cross by Craig Baxter which found the forward in the six-yard box. However, the ball was slightly behind Holmes, and so he was unable to get direction on his header and it was saved by home goalkeeper Grant Shenton.
Trafford’s first real effort came when the dangerous Kingsley Williams cut inside from the right and fired in a shot, but it went comfortably wide of Liam Connell’s goal.
The Mariners went close when another Pattison corner found the head of Holmes, and with his effort destined to go wide, Michael Richardson desperately tried to slide it in, but was just unable to get contact on the ball.
Trafford got out of jail again on the half-hour mark when a deft free-kick from the right by Pattison was met by the faintest of flicks by Richardson, who was kept off the scoresheet by a goal-line clearance from Andrew Keogh.
The home side took the lead in the 39th minute. Substitute Ashley Woods pulled off an impressive turn in the area and saw his low shot kicked away by Connell to Alastair Brown just inside the box. His effort was destined to go wide, but went straight into the path of Dean, who was able to flick it over the line.
Shields responded well and scored the set-piece goal they had been threatening a minute into first half stoppage time.
Pattison’s corner from the right floated beyond the home defence and goalkeeper, and met Shaw at the back post, who was able to head into an empty net.
Being level at half-time was the least the Mariners deserved in their first taste of EVO-STIK North action.
They almost took the lead 13 minutes into the second half, but a dipping effort from distance by Robert Briggs nestled on top of the net.
At the other end, a decent spell by Trafford saw them put Shields under some pressure, and the closest they came to going back ahead was when a stabbed shot by Stephen Mason was cleared out for a corner by Baxter.
Within a minute of that, the Mariners went 2-1 up.
Dillon Morse brought the ball out of defence and lofted a ball forward towards Holmes, who put his defender under pressure and forced him into a mistake. Holmes wrestled control and squared it for Finnigan, who calmly rolled the ball home to delight the big travelling support.
Finnigan could have put the game to bed five minutes later when he was fed by a superb Holmes through ball, but after initially believing he was offside, he rushed his effort and was unable to get clean contact on it, making it a routine save for Shenton.
Trafford managed to push Shields back in the closing stages, and were not far away from equalising when substitute Sean Yeldrem found the side netting with a volley.
They went even closer six minutes from the end when Connell pulled off a stunning one-handed save to deny Louis Corrigan, whose piledriver from the left was destined for the top corner.
Surprisingly, the officials indicated there would be seven minutes of stoppage time, but the Mariners managed to keep the ball in their opponents’ half for most of the additional minutes.
They could have wrapped it up when Luke Sullivan was presented with an opportunity from a corner, but he headed over.
The game’s flash point arrived in the sixth minute of stoppage time when Shields’ Alex Nicholson tried to keep a ball in play and tangled with a member of Trafford’s coaching staff on the touchline. Finnigan came rushing in to support his team-mate, and appeared to break the two up. However, the referee gave him his marching orders, ruling that he had committed violent conduct, while the coach was also sent from the touchline.
It was an unsavoury end to an entertaining game as Shields got off to a winning start in their new league.
They will hope to make it two wins from two on Tuesday when they host Brighouse Town at Mariners Park.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Callaghan, Shaw (c), Morse, Briggs, Nicholson, Pattison (Smith 64), Finnigan, Richardson (Storey 85), Holmes (Sullivan 71). Sub not used: Norton.
Goals: Shaw (45+1), Finnigan (62).
Sent off: Finnigan (90+6).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.