The club’s Academy Under-19 players face one of the biggest games of their young careers on Wednesday when they take on FC Halifax Town.
A place in the final of the National League Academy Cup is at stake, with the young Mariners having enjoyed a tremendous run to the semi-final of the competition.
Shields are competing against teams from the leagues above them, having been given special dispensation to enter the cup because of their consistently strong performances over the last five years.
Wednesday’s tie will be held at 1st Cloud Arena and will be open for supporters to watch for free, with the match to kick-off at 2pm.
The ground will be open from 1pm, with the downstairs bar and clubhouse kiosk set to be in operation.
Lead 16-19s coach Andy Inness said: “For most of the group, this will be the biggest game they’ve played in terms of the occasion.
“It’s a national cup semi-final in an excellent competition against teams from leagues above the one we usually operate at.
“They’ve done brilliantly to make it this far and have proved they’re more than capable of playing at that level.
“Now it’s about delivering on Wednesday and dealing with the pressure of the occasion and the fact it’s at 1st Cloud Arena, which always adds a little bit more to it.
“The biggest message from me is that it’s just a game.
“They’ve got to play the game and not the occasion, and remember that it’s still 11 vs 11 regardless of who your opponent is.”
Shields bounced back to winning ways last Wednesday with a 4-0 win over Scarborough Athletic, with goals from Lewis Lukeman, Dan Waldon, Nathan Kidd and Alfie Marriott sealing the win.
That followed the young Mariners’ first defeat of the National League Under-19 Alliance season a week earlier, when they were beaten 3-0 by Frickley Athletic.
Inness added: “The result and performance against Frickley was a big shock to me, because that group had never performed like that in my time at the club.
“We had an honest conversation about it after the game and the reaction from the lads was first-class on the training pitch.
“On Wednesday they transferred that into a brilliant performance, because they were excellent against Scarborough and fully deserved their win.
“We’ve got to keep pushing and trying to make what they do feels enjoyable instead of pressurised.”
South Shields are into the semi-final of the National League Academy Cup after a superb victory over Grimsby Town at Blundell Park.
The young Mariners prevailed 5-4 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw, with goalkeeper Callum Dobson proving to be the hero after saving two spot-kicks.
Shields were 1-0 behind at the break after a goal on the stroke of half-time from Luis Adlard, but Blair Rossiter’s terrific free-kick drew them level in the 69th minute.
With the tie still deadlocked after 90 minutes, it went straight to penalties and Shields found themselves behind when Olly Cresdee’s well-taken effort was saved.
Grimsby had a chance to win it with their fourth spot-kick but Dobson made a fine save before repeating the effort in sudden death and presenting Nathan Kidd with an opportunity to send the Mariners through, which he took.
Andy Inness, Shields’ lead 16-19s coach, said: “Did we play great? Probably not.
“Did we grind it out and show some real grit, determination and togetherness? Yes, definitely.
“There was a real outstanding moment of quality from Blair Rossiter, whose free-kick got us level within the 90 minutes, and then we got the job done on penalties.
“Callum Dobson deserves a massive pat on the back because he had the chance to make a hero of himself and took it.
“Even their manager said after the game that he thought we were the better side over the 90 minutes, which I agreed with, but we weren’t at our free-flowing best and didn’t play as well as we’re capable of, so to win despite that is a great effort from the lads.”
This is the latest milestone moment for the Academy, ranking alongside deep runs in the FA Youth Cup and several other national cup competitions since it was formed in 2017.
Inness added: “It is a brilliant achievement from the lads, and credit to them.
“We’ve been battling quite hard to get into the Academy league above, and the Youth Alliance allowed us into this cup competition with teams from that league.
“The players are showing they’re more than capable of mixing it at that level.
“This time we had to dig in and grind it out, and that’s a great experience for them.
“It’s massive for the lads, and it’s something they will be able to look back on in the future and remember fondly.”
The experience of playing at Blundell Park, which has a capacity of over 9,000, was also cherished by the young Mariners.
Inness said: “The whole day was great for them.
“The lads were buzzing to travel on the team coach and then I don’t think they quite realised how much of a proper football stadium it was until they got there, and it was good to see them taking it in.
“It’s a proper Football League ground – although Grimsby are in the National League at the moment – and holds 9,000 people.
“It was a brilliant experience for them and the pleasing thing for me was that they didn’t freeze in that environment.
“At times they’ve struggled in the FA Youth Cup in home games with a big crowd there, but this time they didn’t freeze under that pressure.
“They dug in and played well at times, battled at times and rode their luck at times.
“They did what they needed to do to get through the tie.”
Shields now await the draw for the semi-finals, where their opponents will be Woking, FC Halifax Town, Chesterfield or Eastleigh.
South Shields Academy defeated York City on penalties for the second time in little over a month in the National League Academy Cup on Wednesday.
The Mariners got the better of York on spot-kicks in the final qualifying round of the FA Youth Cup after a 1-1 draw at 1st Cloud Arena in October.
History repeated itself in the Academy Cup, with goalkeeper Callum Dobson again proving to be the hero as Shields battled into the second round of the competition.
The sides played out a 1-1 draw over the 90 minutes, with Blair Rossiter’s opener for the home side cancelled out by York as they forced a shootout.
It was an impressive display by the Mariners which left the coaching staff buoyed.
Academy coach Andy Inness said: “There are lots of positive things for us to reflect on.
“We kept the ball well at times, played through the thirds really well and adapted in a good way tactically.
“York’s set-up posed us a couple of problems and we had a chat about that at half-time. The players carried out our instructions very well in the second half, which was a much more controlled performance.”
Rossiter’s goal caught the eye, with the midfielder – linking up with the Academy as he steps up his recovery from a knee injury – latching onto a ball from Joao Gomes before picking out the bottom corner. It was a fine counter-attack by the Mariners which began on the edge of their own penalty area.
Dobson saved one York penalty and almost stopped two others as Shields emerged 4-3 winners on spot-kicks, sealing their progression in what is a prestigious national competition.
The influence of Rossiter and Gomes – both part of the first-team squad – proved particularly beneficial to the group.
Inness added: “Having Blair and Joao with us is great for the rest of the players because it outlines where they can aspire to be, with both of them having progressed through the Academy themselves.
“The way they prepare for the games and carry themselves is a lesson for the younger lads, as is their work-rate on the pitch and the intensity they play at.
“It’s a great learning curve for the players and having those two with us over the last couple of weeks has raised the standards and performance levels of the Academy group.”
In the college league, meanwhile, another Shields Academy team played out a 1-1 draw with Park View. The Mariners’ goal was scored by Joseph Armstrong.