Preview: South Shields vs Whickham
South Shields will hope to build on Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Gateshead by picking up their first league points of 2016 on Saturday.
The Mariners are hosting Whickham in what is just their third league game of the calendar year so far, and their first at home.
They go into it on the back of two consecutive defeats in Ebac Northern League Division Two, though, against fellow promotion contenders Ryhope CW and Billingham Synthonia.
That has seen their lead at the top of the table cut to six points, with Ryhope having a game in hand.
Shields manager Jon King feels his side will be in for a difficult encounter against a side the Mariners beat 1-0 in September.
He said: “I’ve always classed Whickham as one of the best teams in the division.
“They had a really slow start to this season, but they’re now in mid-table and have improved.
“They’re strong, physical and direct, but I wouldn’t swap this group of players for anyone in this division.
“Hopefully we’ll put another performance in like Wednesday’s, and get back to winning ways in the league.”
That is a message echoed by defender Ibby Hassan, who made his home debut for Shields in Wednesday’s win.
He said: “It’s imperative that we win on Saturday. The league is the bread and butter.
“The cups are good distractions from the league, but our main goal is to win the league.
“We want to progress through the leagues, so it’s essential that we kick on on Saturday and get another result.”
Hassan was left delighted after his first action at Mariners Park.
He added: “It was superb, and a great atmosphere. The pitch was a little bit soft in places, but everyone involved with the club did well to get the game on, because the conditions have not been ideal for football recently.
“We were just over the moon to get a game and the right result.
“I never thought it was going to happen! I was ineligible to play in a couple of games with me not being signed before the original date of the cup ties, and there were a couple of postponements.
“It was a bit stop-start, but the weather has started to clear up a bit so I’m just over the moon to have got a couple of 90 minutes under my belt.
“We didn’t quite get the result we wanted at Billingham Synthonia, and we wanted to really get back at it against Gateshead.
“The lads had a great run previously, and I want to be involved in another one.”
Shields hope to welcome back Julio Arca for Saturday’s 3pm kick-off, but will still be without the injured Lewis Galpin.
Admission – to be paid at the turnstiles – is £5 for adults, £3 for students and over-65s, and £1 for under-16s.
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.