South Shields succumbed to their first defeat of the season as an energetic Radcliffe side won 3-1 at 1st Cloud Arena in the Pitching In Northern Premier League.
Radcliffe opened the scoring inside the first minute and although Alex Kempster equalised before half-time with his first competitive goal for the Mariners, they could not find their best form after the break.
The visitors ultimately claimed maximum points as Kole Hall clipped them back into the lead and the experienced Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro added his second goal of the night late on.
Shields were left to rue what might have been, with the woodwork struck three times during the 90 minutes by the home side.
They started on the back foot, though, falling behind with less than 60 seconds on the clock when a loose pass in midfield was pounced on by Akpa Akpro, who sent a clinical finish beyond Myles Boney into the bottom corner.
The Mariners almost responded immediately as Robert Briggs’ whipped corner from the left was glanced by the head of Jason Gilchrist and was destined for the net before being cleared off the line. Despite the hosts’ appeals that the ball had either crossed the line or struck the hand of the defender, the referee waved play on.
There was another opportunity for an equaliser soon after as Craig Baxter picked out Kempster midway inside the Radcliffe half and he drove beyond the defence with a fine run before his prodded effort was blocked by the legs of goalkeeper Cameron Belford, who had been quick to close the angle.
Shields were finding their feet and had further sights of goal as Darius Osei fired not far wide from 20 yards and Gilchrist was also off target from a similar distance.
They were almost caught out at the other end as a cross from the left was headed out as far as Luca Navarro, who skewed a volley wide from 12 yards when a goal appeared a distinct possibility.
The Mariners had appeared most likely to register the second goal of the game, though, and it arrived via a set-piece on 32 minutes.
Briggs curled in another superb corner from the left and this time Kempster met it at the near post to nod home and bring his side on level terms.
They didn’t have things all their own way in the remainder of the first half with Radcliffe continuing to pose a threat at the other end, but the closest either team came to taking the lead before half-time was a 25-yard strike by Gilchrist which Belford pushed wide.
Shields introduced Josh Gillies for Verstraaten at the break and they almost went ahead within four minutes of the restart as Gilchrist’s teasing low cross from the right begged a tough from Osei, but the forward just could not get enough purchase on the ball and the chance evaporated.
Radcliffe were the next to go for goal with an effort from 25 yards by Matty Crothers which Boney gathered at the second attempt, while at the other end Kempster had another shot saved by Belford.
Arguably the most crucial moment of the game arrived just before the hour mark when the ball was hooked forward to Hall just outside the box on the right and with Boney advancing, the Radcliffe forward expertly dinked it over him and into the net to give his side the advantage for a second time.
Former Grimsby Town, Rochdale and Tranmere Rovers forward Akpa Akpro was a thorn in Shields’ side throughout the game and he fired the hosts another warning when he fizzed an effort across goal which went not far wide of Boney’s right-hand post.
Kempster and Gilchrist meanwhile were consistently the Mariners’ most likely sources of goals and they combined to great effect in the 63rd minute as Kempster’s fine run and cross was met by a glancing shot by Gilchrist which struck the crossbar. Shields kept the ball alive and a second effort from Gilchrist trickled narrowly past the post.
Gillies curled a free-kick not far wide soon after before Gilchrist again fired a brilliant ball across the face of goal which just evaded the stretching Kempster in the middle.
It felt like an equaliser was coming and it almost arrived in stunning fashion when the ball broke to Gilchrist 20 yards out on the right and his venomous strike crashed against the crossbar as he was denied by the woodwork for a second time.
That momentum was eventually lost and Radcliffe had an opportunity to effectively seal the points, but Andrew Owens’ shot from the left of the area curled just wide.
Another huge chance for a Shields leveller came with 10 minutes left when Callum Ross played Gilchrist in on goal down the left, but he was unable to get a shot away and the ball squirmed loose. The Mariners kept it alive and continued probing but an eventual effort from Ross was blocked before Gilchrist headed over.
It would prove to be a vital moment as, just over a minute later, Radcliffe went out of sight with a prodded effort from Akpa Akpro which nestled in the bottom corner.
There was still time for Gilchrist to be frustrated by the woodwork for a third time as he pounced on a fumble by Belford and got a shot away from a tight angle which came back off the post.
There was by then no way back for Shields as their first defeat of the season was registered.
They will hope to bounce back on Saturday when they travel to Bamber Bridge.
South Shields: Boney, Baxter, Smith-Brown (McCamley 75), Shaw (c), Morse, Ross, Verstraaten (Gillies 46), Briggs, Gilchrist, Osei, Kempster. Subs not used: Coombe, Agnew, Hodgson.
Goal: Kempster (32).
Image: Kev Wilson.
Alex Kempster caught the eye with a second half brace as South Shields won for the second time in pre-season at Marske United on Saturday.
After a goalless first half, the Mariners scored four of the five goals netted after the break on a blustery August afternoon at Mount Pleasant.
Josh Gillies and Jason Gilchrist also found the net for the first time in pre-season as Shields secured a confidence-boosting result to step up their preparations for the new campaign.
The flurry of second half goals was in stark contrast to what had been seen before half-time, when chances had been few and far between.
Gilchrist tested home goalkeeper Ryan Catterick with a firm strike from the edge of the box and Will McCamley also forced a save from him, but there had been little quality shown in the final third at either end of the pitch.
That all changed in the second 45 minutes as Shields returned to the field with the bit between their teeth.
Half-time substitute Will Jenkins saw his half-volley palmed behind by Catterick and the resulting corner from Gillies bounced in the six-yard box before crossing the line, with the whip on the low delivery enough to deceive Catterick.
Marske’s response to falling behind was impressive, and after Curtis Round and Jack Blackford had drawn saves from Myles Boney, the hosts were awarded a penalty when Gary Brown tripped Louis Johnson.
Craig Gott sent Boney the wrong way from the spot to equalise as the game burst into life.
The home side had opportunities to go in front, most notably when a corner was caught by the wind and struck the crossbar, but it was to be Shields who dealt the next decisive blow.
Gillies picked out Kempster 25 yards from goal and he turned his man superbly before angling an effort into the corner of the net with his left foot.
It was Kempster’s first goal since joining Shields from York City in the summer and there was more yet to come.
He almost added a stunning second when he got on the end of a ball forward by Boney, flicked it over the defender with his head and sent a delicate lob just over, but he didn’t have too much longer to wait.
Gilchrist laid the ball off to him on the edge of the box and another pinpoint left-foot effort nestled in the bottom corner to double Shields’ advantage.
Gilchrist got in on the act himself towards the end when Robert Briggs found him with a brilliant pass over the top and he rounded Catterick before finishing with ease.
A further goal narrowly eluded Gilchrist as he fizzed a shot just past the post, with Shields’ new-found dominance continuing until the end.
The Mariners are back in action on Saturday when they take on Blyth Spartans at 1st Cloud Arena.
South Shields: Boney, Baxter (Hunter 62), Adams (Croft 83), Ross (Thompson 71), Morse (Verstraaten 46), Brown (Lockey 83), McCamley (Jenkins 46), Briggs (c), Gilchrist, Gillies, Kempster. Sub not used: Hodgson.
Goals: Gillies (51), Kempster (62, 76), Gilchrist (80).
South Shields FC is delighted to announce the signing of forward Alex Kempster.
The 24-year-old arrives after a two-and-a-half-year spell at York City, where he scored 10 goals in 34 league appearances last season.
Kempster was a key part of the York side which topped National League North in 2019-20 before the campaign was brought to a premature end.
He progressed impressively at Bootham Crescent following his arrival from Whitley Bay in February 2018, and also had a spell on loan with Spennymoor Town during his time at York.
After positive talks with Shields joint managers Graham Fenton and Lee Picton, Kempster opted to make the move to South Tyneside and bring his stint with the Minstermen to an end.
He said: “I’m buzzing to be a South Shields player.
“I’m excited to have a new venture and hopefully I’ll be able to help the club get where they want to be.
“After speaking to Lee and Graham about the vision here, and having seen how well the club has progressed over recent years, it’s a decision I’m very happy with.
“I’ve known them for a while and it’s clear what they’ve got set up here and what they want going forward.
“I’ve committed to the club because I can see where they want to go and want to be part of that progression.
“Hopefully we can do well this season and then kick on in the years ahead.”
Both Shields and York suffered a bitterly disappointing end to last season, missing out on promotion in unfortunate circumstances.
While the Mariners’ league campaign was controversially voided, York were pipped to top spot in National League North by King’s Lynn Town on points per game before being beaten in the play-off semi-final by Altrincham.
Kempster and his new Shields team-mates therefore all want to put the bitter taste of last season behind them and hit the ground running in the new campaign.
The arrival of Kempster has provided the Shields management team of Fenton, Picton and assistant manager Brian Smith with a major boost, adding to the earlier captures of previous loanees Myles Boney and Jordan Hunter.
Fenton said: “We’re absolutely delighted to have secured the signing of Alex.
“He has progressed really well over the last few seasons having come from the Northern League to play regularly for a side challenging for promotion from National League North.
“We feel it’s a real coup for the club to have attracted someone of Alex’s quality and age, with the potential to improve further.
“He ticks a lot of the boxes that myself, Lee and Brian were looking for in our only new signing of the off-season, not including the players whose loans have become permanent.
“Supporters can look forward to watching someone who is very athletic and can take people on, while hopefully chipping in with a fair amount of assists and goals over the next few years.”
There is a palpable feeling of excitement among the Shields ranks ahead of the new season, which could start with a league fixture on Saturday, September 19 although that date has not yet been confirmed, and fixtures have not been released.
Fenton has told of his satisfaction with the way the squad has come together.
He added: “This finalises our squad and we’re absolutely delighted with how it’s shaping up.
“The players have looked after themselves well over the last few months and are in a great starting place.
“There are plenty of improvements to come from them, but with the quality and enthusiasm they have I’m sure we will get the season off to a really good start.”