South Shields and Basford United head into Saturday’s fixture at Mariners Park both eyeing top spot in the BetVictor NPL Premier Division.
A two-goal win for the Mariners would see them climb to the summit, while a point would be enough for Basford.
The rest of the top six are all on Emirates FA Cup duty on Saturday, giving Shields and Basford an opportunity to steal a march.
Mariners captain Jon Shaw feels the club’s supporters could make all the difference in Saturday’s 3pm kick-off.
He said: “I mentioned after the game last Saturday that the support we’ve been given already this season has been outstanding and words can’t always describe the difference it makes or the effect it has on us and our opponents.
“However, as much as Lee (Picton) and Graham (Fenton) set high standards for us I’m going to for our fans.
“We’re appealing for them to be there for us and get behind the team from the first second of the match and we will do everything we can to deliver for them.”
Shields have won their last two games since being knocked out of the FA Cup by Colne.
Last Saturday’s 2-1 victory at previously unbeaten Matlock Town was particularly pleasing for Shaw, who scored in the win.
He added: “The lads showed great character at Matlock to bounce back from the previous two performances.
“After drawing at Mariners Park and losing the replay at Colne in the FA Cup, I’m sure some people started to worry but Colne deserve a lot of credit for their approach and the way they executed their gameplan.
“From our point of view, it was obviously disappointing not to break them down over the two games, which is something we haven’t had too much experience of over the last few years, but Colne deserved to go through and we had to react.
“The training building up to Matlock was about sticking together while demanding more from each other and I think those traits showed in our approach to the match.
“We knew it was going to be tough with them being unbeaten, the travel and the quality of the pitch, but the focus from the lads was fantastic and we deserved the win.”
Shields are expected to be without Jason Gilchrist (hamstring), Nathan Lowe (calf) and Luke Daly (knee) on Saturday.
Jordan Hunter will be available after his loan from Sunderland was extended by 28 days.
Kick-off at Mariners Park is at 3pm and admission prices – which can be paid at the turnstiles – are £10 for adults, £8 for students and over-65s, and £3 for under-16s.
Tickets can be bought at reduced prices up to midnight on Friday by clicking here. Buying tickets online will also automatically enter you into a competition to win a season ticket for the remainder of the campaign.
The turnstiles at Mariners Park will open at 12.30pm and the usual Happy Hours will take place between 12.30pm and 1.30pm, and 5pm and 6pm.
A barbecue is to take place outside of the marquee immediately after the match, while the Newcastle United versus Brighton and Hove Albion game will be shown on the TVs from 5.30pm.
Robert Briggs salvaged a point for South Shields with a dramatic stoppage time penalty as Basford United were denied victory at the death at Mariners Park on Saturday.
Briggs converted from the spot seven minutes into added time as Shields snatched a 1-1 draw which left them three points behind Evo-Stik Premier Division leaders Farsley Celtic.
The Mariners had not been at their best – Basford hit the woodwork three times in the first half – but showed character in abundance to continue battling and eventually secure a point which could yet prove crucial.
A bitter and at times strong wind made life difficult for both teams but it was Basford who started the strongest, and they almost went in front as early as the second minute.
Lewis Carr advanced down the left flank and sent in a cross which was caught by the wind and struck the top of the crossbar as Shields breathed a sigh of relief.
There was another close shave for the Mariners soon after when Jack Thomas went on an impressive run down the right and sent in a delivery which was met by the head of Henri Wilder before a deflection sent it wide.
Shields eventually played themselves into some rhythm as they showed glimpses of the form which had seen them secure six successive victories, and almost opened the scoring when Robert Briggs played in Luke Daly and his goalbound effort was brilliantly saved by the outstretched foot of Basford goalkeeper Kieran Preston.
The visitors’ response was strong, and they had a golden chance to take the lead as Nathan Watson received the ball on the right and sent in a superb cross for Matt Thornhill, but he sent his effort away from goal from eight yards.
Basford hit the bar again when Thomas came inside from the right and dinked an effort which beat Liam Connell but did not have enough dip on it to drop below the crossbar.
Daly provided Shields’ biggest spark and he again tested Preston with a low drive which the goalkeeper pushed behind for a corner.
Basford continued to give as good as they got, though, and they were left scratching their heads as to how they did not go in front on the stroke of half-time.
Thornhill’s header from a Ryan Wilson free-kick was destined for the net before Connell pulled off a miraculous save and the rebound then struck the crossbar before being hacked off the line.
Shields will have been eager to make a better impression after half-time and they did that with a bright 10 minute spell.
They began to pepper the Basford goal with shots, with Nathan Lowe shooting over three times from distance before Briggs aimed for the spectacular with an effort from 10 yards inside his own half which Preston scrambled to save.
Connell still had to be alert at the other end, though, and kept out a shot from Thornhill after a Basford counter-attack.
The hosts were stunned on the hour mark as Basford took the lead. A free-kick was launched into the Shields box and after a spot of pinball, Carr fired the ball home with a low effort.
Shields had half an hour to rescue something from the game but found clear-cut chances difficult to come by.
Craig Baxter and Lowe had shots saved, while at the other end, Connell made a stunning one-handed stop to keep out a piledriver from Thomas.
The Mariners built up some momentum in the latter stages and substitute Ben Harmison had a good chance to bring them level with four minutes left, but headed wide at the back post.
Jon Shaw – pushed up-front in stoppage time – smashed two efforts not far off target before the key moment arrived four minutes into stoppage time when another Shaw shot was cleared off the line by the hand of Basford defender Wilson, who was shown a straight red card by the referee.
What followed was a three-minute delay which saw Wilson delay his exit from the field while a team-mate kicked away the penalty spot marking, before a scuffle delayed the spot-kick further.
The coolest man in the ground was Briggs, though, as he stepped up to smash the penalty into the top corner with just about the last kick of the game.
It was his 18th goal of the season and could yet prove to be the most important.
With three league games remaining, it’s still all to play for.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull (Harmison 76), Daly, Briggs, Mason (Cogdon 61), Lowe, Bell (Foley 61). Subs not used: Lough, Mouanda.
Goal: Briggs (pen 90+7).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
Lee Picton says he is “proud” of his South Shields players heading into a season-defining fortnight.
With four games to go, Shields are one point behind leaders Farsley Celtic in the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
They take on play-off chasers Basford United at Mariners Park on Saturday on the back of six consecutive victories.
Joint managers Picton and Graham Fenton have been delighted with the efforts of their team over recent weeks, and are hoping they will pick up from where they left off in Tuesday’s 2-0 win at Workington.
Picton said: “Both myself and Graham are massively proud of the way the squad has been performing over the last few weeks.
“I know it’s easier said than done, but if we can continue to perform at those levels then we’re really confident we can end the season with something meaningful to show for it.
“Tuesday night’s test at Workington was everything we knew it would be.
“It was a difficult pitch and we were up against a resolute opponent, but through the sheer grit, determination and hard work of the players on the night, we secured what was in the end a relatively comfortable victory.”
Shields won 3-0 in the reverse fixture in January, but Basford have since had a change in management and now sit just five points off the play-off places.
They are among the league’s top scorers – only Shields have scored more than their 73 – and Picton is well aware of the threat they pose.
He added: “Basford seem to have been somewhat rejuvenated over the last few weeks since their mid-season change in management.
“We know they can be a dangerous attacking force, hence the number of goals they have scored this season, and we certainly won’t be taking them lightly in any way.
“We intend to come out on the front foot and get back to our usual brand of fast, free-flowing football, which if executed with enough consistency and quality, we believe will be good enough for the three points.”
Shields are expected to remain without Carl Finnigan and Barrie Smith, although both players have resumed training after their long-term injuries.
Gary Brown is also expected to return to contention soon.
Kick-off in Saturday’s game is at 3pm and admission prices – which can be paid at the turnstiles – are £10 for adults, £8 for students and over-65s, and £3 for under-16s.
Discounted tickets are available until midnight on Friday. Secure them by clicking here.