South Shields’ academy players are set to grace a Football League stadium once more when they take on Basford United in the final of the National League Under-19 Alliance League Cup.
The young Mariners booked their place in the final with a late 1-0 win over Maidstone United at Mariners Park on Wednesday.
Their reward is a trip to Walsall FC’s Banks’s Stadium on Wednesday, May 8, with kick-off set to be at 7pm.
It will be the second Football League ground the players have visited this season after their FA Youth Cup trip to Lincoln City in November.
South Shields enjoyed another tremendous day as they set up a mouth-watering top of the table clash with Farsley Celtic by cruising to a 3-0 win at Basford United.
Shields moved level on points with Farsley at the top as they made it 10 league victories from their last 12 games with goals from David Foley, Dillon Morse and Gavin Cogdon.
The result saw the Mariners leapfrog Nantwich Town and Warrington Town and take a joint lead at the top with Farsley, who they have an identical goal difference to.
Shields went into the match expecting a response from Basford, who suffered a shock 8-3 home defeat against Hyde United in their previous game.
The Nottingham-based club had won 10 of their 12 home games before that thrashing and are the league’s top scorers, so the Mariners were well aware of the threat they posed.
A workmanlike display ensured Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side were able to negotiate the challenge with relative comfort, despite a resilient performance from Basford.
Picton and Fenton demanded a fast start from Shields and the players responded to that well, opening the scoring after just 70 seconds.
Basford goalkeeper Saul Deeney’s pass was intercepted by Craig Baxter on the right of the box and he squared the ball for Foley, who slotted into the bottom corner to send the Mariners on their way.
The home side’s biggest threat appeared to be from crosses and set-pieces, but they were unable to seriously test Liam Connell in the Shields goal.
It was the Mariners who were in control and after a good period of possession, they extended their lead before the half-hour mark.
A free-kick from deep on the left by Josh Gillies was miscued by defender Stef Galinski and Deeney parried the ball to the feet of Morse, who tapped home for his sixth goal of the season.
Gary Brown turned in another impressive performance at right-back and he looked like making it three when he took advantage of some space on the flank to drive into the box before his shot flashed wide.
Nathan Lowe also saw an effort fly past the post on the stroke of half-time as Shields took what felt like a comfortable advantage into the interval.
One area of concern at the break for the Mariners would have been the number of free-kicks given away in dangerous areas, but they defended the set-pieces stoically and protected Connell’s goal well.
Basford were mainly restricted to half chances before and after half-time, with Shields enjoying their best spell just before the hour mark as they looked to make the points safe.
Foley went close to adding his second of the afternoon when he got on the end of a through ball by Lowe before drilling wide, while a similar move saw Lowe find the in-form Lee Mason, who thrashed an effort which was deflected over.
Morse thought he had made it three when he found the net after Deeney spilled a corner, but his celebrations were cut short when the referee blew for a foul.
Blair Adams was the next to go close as he got in behind before being impressively denied by Deeney, who also saved from Baxter as Shields cranked up the pressure.
Basford’s only spell in the ascendancy came in the final 10 minutes but they came up against a defence determined not to be breached.
Brown saved two goals – one with a superb tackle, the other with a brave block – while Morse was also on hand to make a crucial block.
As the game ticked towards its conclusion Shields substitute Cogdon stretched a tired defence as he raced onto a ball over the top two minutes into stoppage time before firing low into the net to complete a fine afternoon’s work for the Mariners.
Now it’s all eyes on the huge clash with Farsley Celtic next Saturday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Brown, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Baxter, Lowe, Mason (Cogdon 69), Gillies (Briggs 77), Foley (Harmison 85). Subs not used: Lough, Mouanda.
Goals: Foley (2), Morse (28), Cogdon (90+2).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields joint manager Graham Fenton is expecting a reaction from old friend Martin Carruthers’ Basford United when the in-form Mariners travel to Nottingham on Saturday.
Basford were beaten 8-3 at home by Hyde United last Saturday as their Evo-Stik Premier Division play-off hopes suffered a hit.
They are managed by Carruthers, who Fenton knows well from their time together as players at Aston Villa.
Shields will be looking to extend their 11-match unbeaten run in the league at Mill Street Playing Field, and could go top of the league with a win if other results go their way.
Fenton, though, is wary of the wounded animal.
He said: “I’d rather Basford had won last week because when you come off a game in which you’ve conceded eight goals, you expect a reaction.
“I’m good friends with Martin Carruthers and he’ll be hurting after that result.
“He will have been out on the training pitch with the players this week trying to put things right.
“We don’t look at that scoreline and think that just because they conceded eight goals last week we’re going to do the same to them tomorrow.
“Each game is different and we’ve been reiterating that to the lads this week.
“We go into the game with confidence that we can go and cause them problems and score goals, but we’ve got to be really good at the back to make sure we don’t concede.”
Shields’ last outing saw them win 1-0 at Witton Albion, which was their ninth victory in the last 11 league games.
They sit fourth in the table, three points behind leaders Nantwich Town.
All those above the Mariners dropped points last week, but Fenton insists his full focus is on his own team.
He added: “We keep saying it, but it’s all about ourselves.
“It’s us against us and that’s what we’re judging ourselves on.
“I thought we were right up to our levels last Saturday, especially in the first half, and then we showed real grit and determination in the second half.
“We’ll see what everybody else does but we can only look after ourselves.
“With the form, confidence and togetherness the lads are showing, it’s going to take a good team to beat us.”
Shields go into Saturday’s game without striker Carl Finnigan, who is expected to miss between three and four weeks with an ankle injury.
Long-term injured duo Anthony Callaghan and Barrie Smith remain out.
Kick-off at Mill Street Playing Field – which has a post code of NG6 0LD – is at 3pm