Picton positive as Shields prepare for pre-season opener against Hebburn
Lee Picton says South Shields are feeling “massively refreshed and hungry” as they prepare to return to action on Tuesday.
1st Cloud Arena will host its first match in 158 days as the Mariners take on neighbours Hebburn Town in their opening pre-season friendly.
The club greatly regrets that no supporters will be permitted into the ground due to Government guidelines, but it is hoped that the match will be shown live on Facebook as part of a live streaming trial to allow fans to remain a key part of the action.
Shields are looking ahead to the 2020-21 campaign with positivity, having had time to process the bitterly disappointing conclusion to the 2019-20 season, which was rendered null and void with the Mariners sitting 12 points clear at the top of the table.
Joint managers Picton and Graham Fenton have been impressed with what they have seen since the players returned to training earlier this month and are confident that the long period without a game will work in their favour.
Picton said: “Graham and I are absolutely delighted with where we’re at as a group right now.
“It’s early days but we honestly feel that we’re ahead of where we’ve been at this point in previous pre-seasons.
“Generally speaking, the players really looked after themselves over the difficult lockdown period and that, coupled with the really strong additions we feel we’ve made to the group over the summer, has resulted in a level of quality in training that has been absolutely fantastic.
“The period after the season was curtailed brought a number of opportunities.
“Sometimes as a manager you feel like you’re flying from one season straight into the next, so it’s often difficult to take a step back and really reflect and analyse everything that has happened.
“This year I think both myself and Graham took the opportunity to reflect on an even deeper level than we normally would.
“We feel massively refreshed and hungry to implement the changes to how we do things across the board and really look forward to seeing the results of those.”
Shields have made four additions to their squad so far this summer, with Myles Boney and Jordan Hunter converting their loan deals into permanent moves, Alex Kempster signing from York City and Will McCamley returning to the club on loan from Huddersfield Town.
Picton added: “In terms of personnel, we feel that we’re genuinely stronger across the board than this time last year.
“The competition for places throughout the squad is absolutely fantastic.
“We’re in no doubt that will drive greater standards and levels of performance across the board.”
Shields have confirmed the details of five pre-season friendlies as they prepare to hopefully begin their league campaign in mid-September.
A home game against West Auckland Town and trips to Stockton Town, Marske United and Gateshead are on the agenda after Tuesday’s meeting with Northern League Division One side Hebburn.
Picton recognises the importance of a strong period of preparation ahead of the season.
He said: “We finished last season by employing at least two or three different strategies tactically.
“These games give us an opportunity to build on that understanding and to start to figure out the best way forward for us as a group going into this season.
“We want to be very aggressive in our play in terms of our general energy and pressing strategy around the pitch.
“We feel that we’ve added more athleticism to the squad generally and need to utilise that in the right way.
“Pre-season also gives us the opportunity to employ strategies that will hopefully benefit the squad psychologically and socially so that when those tough challenges inevitably spring up in the season, we’re a really tight-knit group and can overcome those challenges in the most positive way possible.”
One of those early challenges for the Mariners will be playing matches without supporters on the sidelines cheering them on.
Picton is hoping it’s an experience Shields will not need to repeat on too many occasions.
He added: “It’s obviously going to be really strange.
“It might be a bit of a cliche, but football is all about the fans. Without them, we don’t have a game.
“I know so many people are desperate to get back to watch us as the club is a big part of their lives.
“Our interaction with the fans is such a big part of why we love the club and the sooner we can get back to some level of normality the better for everyone concerned.”
Kick-off at 1st Cloud Arena is at 7.30pm. Please head to the club’s Facebook page and, all being well, we will provide a full show from around 6.30pm including a preview of the match, live footage of the game itself and post-game reaction.