South Shields put Scottish Championship side Ayr United to the sword with a commanding display as they marched into the final of the Raydale Cup.
Shields took a deserved two-goal lead into half-time, with Julio Arca scoring a brace in the closing stages of the half.
Although Ayr improved after the interval, they could not break through a resolute Mariners defence as Shields impressed in their first outing of pre-season.
From the outset, the underdogs were on top against their professional opponents, pressing them into mistakes at the back and winning back possession high up the field.
However, despite much fine play in the first half-hour, Jon King’s side were unable to make the breakthrough.
Shields looked dangerous every time they attacked, with David Foley denied on a number of occasions by Ayr goalkeeper Greg Fleming.
Jon Shaw also drilled a shot not far wide on his first appearance for the Mariners, while Gavin Cogdon flashed an effort over.
The breakthrough finally arrived six minutes before half-time when Shields were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out on the right.
Arca curled in a wicked delivery which evaded everyone before nestling in the opposite corner to delight the strong travelling support.
Shields finally had the goal their play deserved, and a second was not long in coming.
Ayr flashed a shot over at one end, while Louis Storey narrowly failed to convert a header at the other, before the ever-dangerous Foley was played in on goal.
With the former Hartlepool United forward looking likely to fire in, an Ayr defender slid in with a despairing tackle, only to bring the Shields man down. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, from which Arca coolly slid in a penalty.
In the second half, Ayr – who won promotion to Scotland’s second tier last season – came out with renewed purpose, and substitute Craig McGuffie was denied early on by Shields’ trialist goalkeeper.
Daryl Meggatt also sent a header not far wide, before Shields made eight changes at once.
That altered the pattern of play as the introduced players got to grips with the game, but Ayr were still unable to get a foothold.
Arca – who was outstanding throughout – was one of the three Shields starters to stay on the pitch, but he was later brought off to well-deserved cheers of appreciation.
Ayr had some better opportunities late in the second half, but Paddy Boyle’s effort whistled over the crossbar, while the Mariners goalkeeper made two fine saves – including one terrific one-handed stop – to keep the margin of advantage at two.
That is the way it remained until the end of the game as Shields gained an impressive scalp to move into Sunday’s final, when they will face another Scottish Championship side, Queen of the South. They dispatched hosts Gretna 6-1 in the other semi-final.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Trialist, Baxter (Galpin 58), Turner (Trialist 58), Trialist (Carson 58), Storey (Morse 58), Arca (Briggs 76), Palmer (Teasdale 58), Scroggins (c) (Wade 58), Shaw (Ramsey 58), Cogdon, Foley (Byrne 58).
Goals: Arca (39, pen 43).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields will kick-off their pre-season friendly schedule on Saturday when the Raydale Cup gets under way in Gretna.
The Mariners will play once on Saturday and once on Sunday, with Ayr United, Queen of the South and Gretna also taking part in the competition.
There is expected to be a strong contingent of travelling supporters from Shields, while advance weekend and day tickets are on sale from http://www.gretnafc2008shop.co.uk/raydale-tickets.html while they will also be available on the day.
Over the next three days, we will take a closer look at all three of Shields’ potential opponents on the weekend.
We start that with a profile of Ayr United, who Shields will face on Saturday at 3.30pm in the semi-final.
However, while the Mariners are still several divisions away from professional football, Ayr already are full-time – and are just one tier away from the likes of Celtic and Rangers.
After ‘The Honest Men’ won promotion via the play-offs in 2015-16, they will play in the Scottish Championship next time out, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Neil Lennon’s Hibernian, as well as clubs including Dundee United, Dunfermline, Falkirk and St Mirren.
They are far from out of their depth in that company, though, with Ayr’s Somerset Park the fifth biggest ground in the division, housing 10,185 spectators.
The club has a long history, having been formed in 1910, and has been champions of the second tier in Scotland six times, Scottish Cup semi-finalists three times and Scottish League Cup runners-up as recently as 2002, and semi-finalists four years ago. They have also spent 34 seasons in the top flight.
Ally MacLeod is the club’s most famous ever manager, having taken charge of Ayr from 1966 to 1975 at the start of his managerial career, before going on to boss Aberdeen and Scotland. He returned for two later spells at Somerset Park.
The club’s current manager is Ian McCall, who played for the likes of Rangers, Bradford City and Falkirk during his playing days. He took over in January 2015, first saving the club from relegation on the final day of the season before achieving promotion through the play-offs last time out.
Among Ayr’s players is defender Peter Murphy, who made well over 400 appearances for Carlisle United between 2001 and 2013 and won one full cap for the Republic of Ireland.
Ayr will certainly provide stern opposition for Shields, and go into the competition as defending champions, having beaten hosts Gretna 1-0 in last year’s final.
The winners of the game between Ayr and the Mariners will take part in the final on Sunday against the victors of the clash between Gretna and Queen of the South. The losers, meanwhile, will face each other in a third-place play-off.
Over the next two days, we’ll take a closer look at Gretna and Queen of the South.
Tickets for the Raydale Cup, in Gretna, are now available to buy.
South Shields will take part in the pre-season event alongside Scottish clubs Ayr United, Queen of the South and Gretna.
The Mariners will play two games across two days on Saturday, July 9, and Sunday, July 10, beginning with a fixture against Ayr at 3.30pm on the opening day. Ahead of that, Gretna will take on Queen of the South at 12pm.
The winner of those matches will then take part in Sunday’s final, with the losers playing a third-place play-off. The final will take place at 3.30pm, with the losing semi-finalists’ game on at 12pm.
A weekend ticket – which will give holders entry to all four games played across the two days – costs £12, while it is £7 for a day ticket.
All children under the age of 16 will be allowed in free of charge if with a paying adult.
Tickets can be bought from http://www.gretnafc2008shop.co.uk/raydale-tickets.html while they will also be available on the day.
The event was first competed for as a pre-season competition in the 1970s, but was revived in its current format three years ago.
Last year, Ayr won the competition, beating Gretna 1-0 in a closely-matched final.
The event will take place at Gretna’s Raydale Park, which is on Dominion Road, Gretna, and has a postcode of DG16 5AP.
Places are available on a supporters’ coach to the event, which will depart Mariners Park at 9am on Saturday, July 9. It will then return the following day, although those who book up will have to source their own accommodation.
A seat on the bus costs £25 per person and is on a first-come, first-served basis. To book a place, pop into Mariners Park or call 0191 454 7800.
IMAGE: Peter Talbot.