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SSFC Academy set for first taste of competitive action at Mariners Park

Supporters will get the chance to watch potential South Shields first-team players of the future at Mariners Park on Wednesday.

The SSFC Academy team play their first competitive game when Rochdale visit in the National League Under-19 Alliance, with kick-off at 12.30pm. Entry is free.

The Academy squad, led by first-team joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton, was put together over the summer, and the players have been put through their paces over a pre-season period.

Based on their location, the Mariners have been placed into Division J of the National League Under-19 Alliance, and will come up against Guiseley, Darlington, Halifax Town, FC United of Manchester, Farsley Celtic, Gateshead, Harrogate Town and Maltby Main, as well as Rochdale, this season.

Picton is hopeful Wednesday will be the start of a successful period for the Academy.

He said: “This game marks the beginning of what we hope will be a long and fruitful journey for the SSFC Academy.

“It has been a long build-up to this point, and we’re massively excited about not just the game, but the way everything is progressing as far as the Academy is concerned.

“The lads have worked very hard during the Academy pre-season and it’s a fitting game to kick the season off for us against professional league opposition at Mariners Park.”

On what supporters should expect to see from the team – made up of players aged 16 to 19 – Picton added: “The ultimate aim is to prepare the players for first-team football here at South Shields.

“It makes sense for us to play with the same principles in and out of possession.

“We’re very pleased with the young and talented squad we have put together, considering the short lead-up time that we had from the Academy’s inception to where we are today.”

Although the match is played at a time many supporters will be at work, Picton is hoping that fans who can make it will be able to back the team with their attendance.

He said: “The Academy games are played during standard office hours, but if anyone in the area would like to see the potential players of the future for the first-team, we would really welcome their support at Mariners Park.

“The players themselves would really appreciate it too.

“We’re sure it’ll be a very interesting game on Wednesday as well.

“Rochdale are a League One side at first-team level, so their Academy players are classed as young professionals.

“Our players aren’t classed as that, so we expect a really tough and competitive game for our first fixture.

“However, we’ve got every expectation of the lads putting a strong performance in on Wednesday.”

The SSFC Academy was launched during the summer, with coaching provided by Picton and Fenton in conjunction with the Improtech Soccer Elite coaching company run by Mariners assistant manager Martin Scott.

There is also an education element to the programme, with all of the players studying A Level, BTEC and HND courses provided by Sunderland College.