South Shields 3-0 Mickleover
Nathan Lowe’s thunderbolt inside the first two minutes set South Shields on their way to a season-opening win over Mickleover on an uplifting afternoon at 1st Cloud Arena.
Lowe’s strike into the top corner was an emphatic way for Shields to return to competitive action before second half goals from Jon Shaw and Jason Gilchrist completed what proved to be a convincing victory.
Mickleover played their part in an at times feisty game but it was the Mariners who were smiling at the final whistle as they climbed to the top of an admittedly primitive Pitching In Northern Premier League table.
It may have been Shields’ first competitive game in more than six months but there was little evidence of rustiness in the opening stages.
Darius Osei fed Gilchrist down the right and when he looked inside for options, Lowe was screaming for the ball 25 yards from goal. Gilchrist duly played it into his path and his good friend leathered it into the top corner to kick-off the season in style.
The home side’s bright start continued and it was Gilchrist who remained chief creator, with his cross from the left sent narrowly wide by a looping header from Osei.
Osei went closer still to doubling Shields’ advantage before quarter of an hour had even been played as he drifted in from the right before belting a left-foot shot narrowly over the crossbar.
It took Mickleover some time to settle into the game but when they did, they demonstrated their ability to provide a real threat to the Shields back-line.
They almost equalised on the half-hour mark when Declan Bacon’s low ball into the box was half-cleared as far as Andrew Wright, whose well-struck effort hit the base of the post.
If that was a warning for the Mariners, they were fired another one soon after as Wright fizzed in a dangerous cross from the right but no team-mate was on hand to convert.
Mickleover’s strong end to the first half saw them continue to threaten a leveller and they created another decent chance when Alex Morris whipped in a cross which found the head of the experienced Stuart Beavon, but he was unable to trouble Myles Boney.
Shields came out strongly at the start of the second half and Josh Gillies forced visiting goalkeeper Callum Hawkins into action early on as his low strike from distance was beaten away.
Lowe almost doubled his tally for the afternoon in spectacular fashion with a powerful free-kick from the left of the box which just cleared the crossbar, although many in attendance had mistakenly thought the ball had looped in.
The match entered a scrappy period as both sides picked up a number of yellow cards, but Shields broke the resistance of the away side on 68 minutes as substitute Robert Briggs’ superb free-kick delivery from the left was met at the back post by Shaw, who guided it past Hawkins with a brilliant header.
The Mariners were well on their way to an opening-day victory but had to remain alert at the back and were fired another warning of Mickleover’s threat when Anam Verma played in substitute Jordan Walshaw and his powerful strike forced Boney into an impressive one-handed save.
The visitors were left scratching their heads as to how they had not pulled a goal back two minutes before the end when Ben Garing headed against the post before Dillon Morse denied Beavon with an acrobatic goal-line clearance and Boney brilliantly blocked from Patrick Webb as the clean sheet was preserved.
The final word ultimately belonged to Shields, who added a third goal in stoppage time.
Jordan Hunter beat Alex Morris on the right and he found Gilchrist, who tucked in his first goal of the season from close range after some typically impressive movement from the striker had left him in space.
It was a pleasing return to competitive football for Shields, who travel to Warrington Town on Tuesday as they get their Emirates FA Cup campaign underway.
South Shields: Boney, Hunter, Adams (Brown 75), Shaw (c), Morse, Ross, Gillies (Briggs 63), Baxter, Gilchrist, Lowe, Osei (Jenkins 77). Subs not used: Turnbull, Verstraaten.
Goals: Lowe (2), Shaw (68), Gilchrist (90+3).
IMAGE: Kev Wilson.