Preview: Stokesley Sports Club vs South Shields
Jon King is backing his South Shields players to kick-off what could be a big year in positive fashion on Saturday when they travel to Stokesley Sports Club.
The Mariners won their final 20 games of 2015, and now face a side which sits bottom of Ebac Northern League Division Two on just four points.
Stokesley, though, are the last team to deny Shields victory, having claimed a 1-1 draw at Mariners Park on Julio Arca’s debut in September.
They remained on just one point this season until they defeated Birtley Town 3-0 in their last fixture.
Despite that being Stokesley’s first league win of 2015-16, top-of-the-table Shields know not to take them lightly.
Manager King said: “We played well against Stokesley and created enough chances to win three or four games.
“They only got in our half once or twice, and scored a deflected goal on one of those occasions.
“We didn’t play badly, but we didn’t put our chances away, and if you do that in any match it can cost you, so we certainly can’t repeat that on Saturday. It’s something we have mentioned to the lads.
“Stokesley beat Birtley recently to move onto four points for the season, and that’s the only game they haven’t lost this season except for that draw with us, but there will be no complacency from us.”
The Mariners could not have ended 2015 in better fashion, and a big few weeks lie ahead.
In the league, they will look to extend their lead at the top. Shields are currently nine points clear of second-placed Ryhope CW, who have a game in hand.
In the cups, meanwhile, crucial games lie ahead against Division One outfits Morpeth Town, Consett and North Shields, as well as neighbours Hebburn Town.
That could make the next month or so vital for the Mariners, and hugely different to the situation 12 months ago.
Back then, Shields were still playing ‘home’ games at Peterlee’s Eden Lane, and were destined for a bottom-half finish in Division Two.
King added: “This time last year, it was still all doom and gloom down at Peterlee.
“We had a great bunch of lads, but not the quality that this club deserves. This is a big club and we didn’t have the players we should have, because of finance and circumstances.
“We’re now in a much better position, with (chairman) Geoff Thompson, an ambitious board and a very good side.
“We have to be aware that we’re only halfway though the season, though, and no prizes are being handed out anytime soon so we’ve got a lot of hard work to do.”
On the prospect of Shields extending their lead at the top, King said: “The gap is nine points, and it would be nice to increase that with a lot of cup games coming up.
“The gap was closed recently when we didn’t have many league games, and it will be important in the New Year to at least maintain the lead we have now.
“Ryhope and Chester-le-Street are doing well, I think Team Northumbria will come on strong and there is often a team which comes from nowhere. We need to keep focused.”
Shields have been handed a boost ahead of the Stokesley match, with Lewis Teasdale available again after recovering from a broken hand.
Teasdale hasn’t played since netting a hat-trick in a 4-3 win over Thornaby on October 24, as he was first ruled out through suspension and then his hand injury.
The only player missing from the Mariners squad is set to be Lewis Galpin, who has a broken leg.
Kick-off at Stokesley Sports Ground – which has a post code of TS9 5JQ – is at 3pm. Places are still available on the supporters’ bus, costing £7 a person. It will depart Mariners Park at 1pm.
Please keep your eyes open for updates on the status of the match – and any possible pitch inspection – on Saturday morning.
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.