It has been a tough time for everybody involved with South Shields FC, including the Academy.

After a stellar beginning to the season for our youth side, both training and games have been to a minimum with next to nothing happening at either 1st Cloud Arena or the Washington Hub since before Christmas. 

The Academy attracts some of the most talented young footballers in the North East, and recently Ciaran Lines spoke to three of these players: Jack Watson from Wallsend, Ben Errington from Sunderland and Will Morris from Prudhoe.

With no training happening on the field, running challenges have been set to get the best out of the players during lockdown.

‘Endurance week’ came first, with the challenge being to run the most amount of kilometres within a seven-day period.

Under-17 player Ben Fell won this, with a distance of 53km. For this week, each player was put into a team of their age group to compete against their team-mates of different ages. Ben Errington explained that this “really helped to keep competitiveness alive” among the squad.

The coaches then set the test of completing the fastest 1km run. Will Morris won this, and as a runner myself, I was blown away by his winning time of just two minutes and 46 seconds. I don’t think I need to describe how fast this actually is.

Next came ‘grit week’, ultimately the hardest of the lot.

There were seven different challenges throughout the week, each getting more difficult as they progressed through the days.

If a player failed to complete a challenge they were eliminated, with the idea being that the last man standing on Sunday would win.

There was a three-way tie in the Shields squad, with all three of the players we spoke to going through to a knockout day.

On this day, each player was given two runs to get as much elevation gain as possible overall.

Jack Watson won this by doing reps of the hill leading up to Tynemouth Priory, which from experience I can confirm is a very steep climb to run up once, never mind over and over again. 

With Ben and Will nearing the end of their time in the Shields academy, both are looking to the future.

Ben is aiming to secure for a contract with the first-team but plans to go to stay local and attend Newcastle University to study marketing.

Will, meanwhile, is fielding scholarship offers from American universities to play football across the pond. He then hopes to return to the North East and continue to play football, possibly in the Northern League.

Jack is part of Shields’ Under-17s side within the Academy, and is confident the side can progress in the coming years.

He said: “I think we just take it game by game and hope to progress through the rounds of the FA Youth Cup again and try and go further than we have done previously.”

After Shields’ excellent run to the third round of the competition in 2019-20, Ben and Will also believe the squad can do well in it and are capable of going very far.

In the meantime, we can just hope that everything will be back to normal soon. All are missing the presence of supporters at matches, and the frustration this also provides for players on the field can only be imagined.

South Shields sealed their place in the third round of the FA Youth Cup for the first time in the club’s history as they saw off Hartlepool United in another captivating tie at Mariners Park on Friday.

The young Mariners will travel to Fulham in round three after a display full of spirit and endeavour helped them defeat their North East neighbours 3-2.

Sam Hodgson gave them an 18th minute lead with a typically cool finish and Shields reacted well to conceding an equaliser later in the first half, with Hodgson rattling in a penalty to restore the advantage less than two minutes after the restart.

Prolific defender Ben Errington headed in a third with eight minutes left but there was still to be a nervy ending, which was brought about by a stunning strike from distance by Hartlepool’s Jack Leonard.

Shields were not to be denied, though, and saw out the remaining minutes to spark joyous celebrations as the Under-18s’ hugely impressive run in the competition continued.

In a frantic opening to the game, both sides had opportunities to open the scoring although it was Pools who went closest to doing so.

Mathew Wade produced a vital last-ditch tackle to prevent one goal before Aaron Willoughby curled a shot wide from the edge of the box and Shields goalkeeper Ethan Hodgson made an important interception to deny Jack Leonard what looked like a tap-in.

Shields grew into proceedings and fired their first warning as Will Morris delivered a cross from the right which was met by Joao Gomes and saved by Bradley Young in the Pools goal.

The young Mariners almost took the lead in the 13th minute when Morris shifted the ball onto his left foot just outside the area and fired an effort which took a deflection and was brilliantly tipped over by Young.

The home side did make the breakthrough five minutes later after a sweeping move which was concluded as Will Jenkins slipped the ball through to Hodgson, who took a touch before stroking a shot past Young and into the corner.

Hartlepool reacted well to going a goal behind and began to pressurise the Shields goal, with Dom Agnew forced into making an important clearance from a corner soon after.

Joe Grey then had a good chance to draw the visitors level as he connected with a floated cross from the right, but his shot from a promising position comfortably cleared the crossbar.

Shields could have extended their advantage on the half-hour as Stephen Black played a pass inside from the left to Jenkins on the edge of the box and he met it first time, only for his effort to take a deflection before kissing the outside of the post.

Pools countered from that corner and got back on level terms as Grey made up for his earlier miss with a terrific strike from 25 yards which went in via the post.

Less than a minute later, the young Mariners had a golden opportunity to retake the lead as Gomes tricked his way into a great position before being tripped in the box.

A penalty was awarded and up stepped Hodgson to thump it into the top corner for his second goal of the night.

Hartlepool had the better of the remainder of the half and looked certain to level when a loose Ethan Hodgson clearance presented a big chance to Grey, but the goalkeeper recovered superbly to deny the frontman and maintain his side’s advantage.

Hodgson made another important save seven minutes before half-time as he tipped a piledriver from Harrison Webster wide, and in stoppage time a header from Jay Gibson went onto the roof of the net.

It had been an action-packed 45 minutes and that theme continued after the break.

Hodgson saved brilliantly from Leonard within four minutes of the restart and at the other end, an equally impressive stop from Young denied Morris after he let fly from the right of the box. Josh Croft headed not far over from the resulting corner.

Hodgson produced another strong save from Leonard and then Grey to keep Shields’ noses in front, and their efforts were almost rewarded in the 72nd minute when Errington’s header from a Jenkins free-kick hit the top of the bar.

Pools thought they had levelled from a corner with 11 minutes left, but Hodgson this time produced a tremendous double save from point-blank range to deny them.

Shields got the breathing space they had been craving with eight minutes left as Errington forced in a corner from Jenkins but the tie was far from over.

Pools hit back three minutes from the end with a tremendous strike from distance on the right from Leonard which arrowed into the top corner.

They were unable to create an opportunity to equalise, though, as Shields saw the rest of the game out effectively.

The young Mariners can now look forward to an exciting trip to Fulham in the third round.

SOUTH SHIELDS: E Hodgson, Wade, Croft, Ames, Errington, Agnew, Morris, S Black (Dunn 62), S Hodgson, Jenkins (Taylor 87), Gomes (Ryland 81). Subs not used: L Black, Steavens, Spraggon, Wilkinson.

Goals: S Hodgson (18, 32 pen), Errington (82).

Attendance: 445.

WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.

Joao Gomes struck a dramatic stoppage-time winner as South Shields deservedly booked their place in the second round of the FA Youth Cup at Mariners Park on Wednesday.

Urged on by a vocal home support, the young Mariners produced one of their most gutsy displays to date as they came from a goal behind against a physically strong Morecambe side.

The Shrimps had taken the lead in just the 13th minute but Shields’ first half performance was good and they will have been frustrated to go in at half-time a goal behind.

They stuck to their principles after the break and got their reward, with Ben Errington heading them level before Gomes struck the decisive blow in the third minute of added time as Shields got their reward for a sustained period of pressure.

A home tie against Accrington Stanley or Hartlepool United awaits them in the second round.

The early stages against Morecambe were fairly even before the visitors opened the scoring in the 13th minute.

Amilcar Codjoui Djau pounced on a loose ball in the middle before drilling an impressive effort into the bottom corner from 25 yards as the Shrimps showed a clinical edge.

Shields’ response was instant and they almost equalised on the quarter-hour mark as Will Morris got in behind on the right before squaring for Gomes, who was denied by goalkeeper Andre Mendes.

The home side created their best chance of the first half with five minutes left of it as they worked the ball forward well before Will Jenkins’ strike was blocked by a defender.

The young Mariners continued to persevere after half-time but were handed another test of their character when Morris converted a rebound after a Sam Hodgson effort was saved, and their celebrations were cut short by the offside flag.

The equaliser felt like it was coming, though, and it arrived on 65 minutes as Stephen Black curled in a terrific corner from the left and Errington met it with an equally impressive header into the bottom corner to restore parity.

Shields sensed blood and attacked at every opportunity, with Black firing over from the edge of the box before later teasing in another superb delivery from the left which just evaded the head of Errington.

Morecambe rarely threatened the Mariners’ goal in the second half but had a decent five-minute spell around the 80 minute mark in which they could have scored twice.

Freddie Price collected the ball high up the pitch and arrowed a powerful effort just wide before a 25 yard free-kick from the same player dropped narrowly past Ethan Hodgson’s post.

The young Mariners again got back on top, though, as they tried to grind down their visitors in the closing stages and avoid extra-time.

Jenkins fired over from distance as they started to turn the screw and when five minutes of added time were indicated, Shields seized the initiative.

Hodgson played in Rob Ryland down the right of the area and his effort was blocked before the ball broke to Jenkins just outside the area.

He drove into the box and although a defender was tugging at his shirt, he stayed on his feet and dribbled left before picking out Gomes in the six-yard box, where he finished the chance to spark pandemonium.

Shields held on in what became an extended added period as they deservedly made it through on what was an outstanding night at Mariners Park.

SOUTH SHIELDS: E Hodgson, L Black (Agnew 46), Croft, Ames (Dunn 63), Wade, Errington, Morris (Ryland 82), S Black, Hodgson (c), Jenkins, Gomes. Subs not used: Steavens, Williamson, Spraggon, Taylor.

Goals: Errington (65), Gomes (90+3).

Attendance: 312.

WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.