Preview: Birtley Quarter-Final
By Daniel Prince
South Shields will look to keep their hopes of winning silverware this season alive tomorrow (Wednesday) when they travel to Birtley Town.
The Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup quarter-final will take place at Birtley Sports Complex from 7.30pm, with Shields taking a break from league action.
They go into the game on the back of Saturday’s 3-2 defeat to Willington, which was their third loss in a row.
However, motivation will be high tomorrow against a side which beat Shields 3-1 in November.
Assistant manager Lee Bell feels it could be the club’s biggest game of the season as the Mariners look to reach the semi-finals.
Bell said: “It’s a big day for the club, and I don’t think we’re going to get a bigger day this season, certainly not in the league.
“We’ve not got a chance of winning the league in any shape or form, we’re out of every other cup competition, so this cup is the one thing we can really stamp our authority on and actually go on and have a great day for the club, winning a bit of silverware.
“It would be nice to think that the lads will turn up prepared and perform like they did in the first half on Saturday.
“If we do that, we’ll give Birtley a better game than we did when we played them there earlier in the season, when they turned us over. Hopefully we can repay them in the cup.”
It is as yet unclear how many of the Shields players which missed Saturday’s game will return against Birtley.
David Molloy was unavailable, while Paul Kane and Adam Ward were only fit enough to make late appearances from the bench, and the injured Stephen Ramsey was an unused substitute.
Craig Roberts and Lee Maitland have also missed recent games, and Bell feels the current injury situation sums up Shields’ season.
He added: “You talk about luck and you talk about being unlucky, and I think it sums up our season.
“We’ve got Molloy, Ramsey, Ward, Kane and another few who have been unavailable, who are first-team players.
“They have got a lot of goals between them, and when you take that out of the team, your chances of scoring goals are slimmer.
“We managed two on Saturday – two guys (David Conroy and Alex Kempster) who hadn’t scored before this season – and it was disappointing to score two goals at home and not hold on to at least a draw.”
Bell was pleased with the first half performance on Saturday, which saw Shields go in at the break with a 1-0 lead.
However, things changed after half-time, and Bell has urged the team to develop a “90 minute mentality” to ensure similar problems do not arise in future.
He said: “In the first half, I think we did really, really well. We passed the ball and controlled the game.
“The one thing we did that we hadn’t done for a few weeks was really harried a team, putting loads of pressure on them and forcing them into mistakes. That’s how we got our first goal.
“In the second half, we came out a different team and didn’t have the same energy we had in the first half for some reason.
“We took our foot off the gas, and within 13 minutes of the second half, we had conceded two.
“We’ve got such a good group of lads – we’ve got a fantastic mentality in the changing room and the atmosphere is fantastic – but we don’t seem to be able to carry that 90 minute mentality.
“That is a huge thing in this league, and the Northern League is probably one of the biggest leagues for that.
“It’s a good group of lads, but we certainly need to improve that aspect of our game.”