Sam Hodgson scored twice as South Shields were involved in an eight-goal pre-season thriller with Blyth Spartans at Croft Park on Tuesday.
The Mariners found themselves on the wrong end of a 5-3 scoreline despite displaying many encouraging signs, with summer arrival Michael Woods also earning a place on the scoresheet with a sumptuous volley.
For the second friendly in succession, Shields manager Kevin Phillips opted to change his entire starting XI at half-time as several players took their cumulative pre-season game-time to the 90 minute mark.
The away side started brightly and there was early encouragement provided by an eye-catching link-up between Josh Doherty and Hodgson. Within two minutes, a cross from Doherty was nudged goalwards by Hodgson and saved by Blyth goalkeeper Alex Mitchell.
Spartans sprung into life in the ninth minute, though, with JJ O’Donnell forcing a parry from Callum Dobson before sending the rebound into the path of Corey McKeown, who finished sharply from close range.
The Mariners were quickly level, with the connection between Doherty and Hodgson this time resulting in a goal as the former’s cross was controlled by the striker, who then finished deftly with his other foot to open his account for pre-season.
Shields largely dominated the next period of the game, with Darius Osei sending a shot over before Hodgson was sent through on goal by a Dobson kick and was hauled down by Rhys Evans, who was shown a yellow card which could easily have been red.
Blyth then took control. O’Donnell hit the bar with a looping header and later forced a block from Shields’ trialist defender, but Shields could not avoid falling behind for much longer.
In fact, it was much worse than that for the visitors, who were caught in a Spartans whirlwind as Terry Mitchell’s side scored three times in just four minutes.
Lewis McNall headed them back in front before McKeown and O’Donnell produced clinical finishes to hand the home team a three-goal lead.
A close-range effort from Hodgson to double his tally reduced the arrears, with the forward converting a low ball from Osei.
An entirely changed Shields XI continued in that vein after half-time,
Ntumba Massanka twice went close and Jordan Hunter drew a stop from Mitchell before Michael Woods made it 4-3 with an eye-catching volley as he cushioned a Blair Adams cross into the roof of the net.
The Mariners had the momentum and created chances for an equaliser, but Mitchell saved from Adams and Mackenzie Heaney to avert the danger.
The eighth and final goal ultimately went the way of the hosts, with Jordan Hickey finding the bottom corner from the edge of the box to seal his side’s victory.
The final minutes saw Heaney denied by Mitchell and the welcome return of former Shields player Josh Gillies in a Blyth shirt after he recovered from a long-term injury.
From a Mariners perspective, there were plenty of positives as a mixture of youthful prospects, experienced campaigners and new arrivals continued to gel and got vital minutes in the tank.
They face their third test of pre-season when they host League Two side Barrow at 1st Cloud Arena on Saturday.
First half line-up: Dobson, Lukeman, Doherty, Broadbent (c), Trialist, Smith, Osei, McGowan, Hodgson, Jenkins, Gomes.
Second half line-up: Boney, Hunter, Adams (c), Liddle, Bodenham, Woods, Briggs, McGeorge, Heaney, Kidd (McArthur 73), Massanka.
Goals: Hodgson (14, 39), Woods (65).
Darius Osei netted twice as South Shields won the inaugural CEFO CFS Challenge Trophy match against Blyth Spartans on Saturday.
The in-form forward bagged either side of half-time to help Shields to a 2-1 victory over the National League North side at Croft Park.
It continued Shields’ 100% start to pre-season and was their most notable victory of the summer to date.
Shields started on the front foot as Ntumba Massanka almost capitalised on an error by Blyth goalkeeper Alex Mitchell, but he did well to recover and block the follow-up strike.
The home side then had a great chance to take the lead as Connor Thompson stole the ball from Dillion Morse, but Myles Boney did well to close the angle and the effort trickled comfortably wide.
Although Blyth had produced the best chance of the game at that point, Shields were still pressing for the opening goal. Massanka was presented with a great opportunity to get it, but he miscued his shot and the ball sailed out for a goal kick.
Not long afterwards, Shields’ pressure paid off. Nathan Lowe played a brilliant corner into the front post and Osei flicked the ball into the roof of the net after beating his marker.
Blyth nearly hit back immediately as Thompson, who caused problems throughout the afternoon, found space in front of goal but dragged his shot wide.
The Mariners doubled their lead not long after the break as Osei bagged his second. Conor Tee did brilliantly to beat a defender and stand up a cross to the far post, where the in-form Osei was waiting to control the ball and fire into an empty net.
The home side got one back straightaway as substitute Karl Byrne was presented with a great opportunity and lifted the ball over Boney and into the net.
That gave Spartans much-needed energy as they searched for an equaliser. It almost came through Nicky Deverdics as Robbie Dale’s corner caused unrest in the penalty area, but his effort from close range hit the side netting.
Shields saw out the rest of the game after absorbing pressure towards the end, and look in great shape for the season ahead after continuing their winning pre-season run.
South Shields: Boney, Verstraaten, Kempster, Trialist (Agnew 58), Morse, Ross, Osei (McGowan 80), Briggs (c), Massanka, Lowe, Tee. Subs not used: Steavens, Neary, Hodgson, Steavens.
Goals: Osei (27, 50).
Words: Daniel O’Neill. Image: Kev Wilson.
Pre-season silverware is up for grabs when South Shields travel to neighbours Blyth Spartans for a friendly match full of intrigue on Saturday (3pm kick-off).
Croft Park will play host to the inaugural CEFO CFS Challenge Trophy tie between two sides which are heading into the season with plenty of optimism.
Shields have won all four of their friendly games to date, with Blyth also boasting a 100% record courtesy of victories over Middlesbrough’s Under-23s and North Shields.
It could be argued that both teams are facing their strongest test of the summer so far this weekend as they step up their preparations for the league campaign.
The Mariners are readying themselves for a bid for promotion from the Northern Premier League while Blyth are in the National League North – one tier higher than their visitors – and looking to make their mark after significantly strengthening their squad.
Shields manager Graham Fenton spent time with Spartans as a player and coach, and believes Michael Nelson’s men will provide his side with a valuable test.
He is looking for the Mariners to step up following Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Consett, when they created a host of opportunities but had just one Darius Osei goal to show for it.
Fenton said: “Blyth is always a tough place to go, so we’re looking forward to it.
“I was there for a long time myself so it will be good to see some familiar faces from a few years ago.
“They’ve made some good signings over the summer so it will be another step up for us.
“If we’re going to win that game we’ll have to be more clinical than we were on Tuesday.”
Both clubs recently announced partnerships with CFS and CEFO Group, signalling the group of companies’ tremendous and continued commitment to supporting non-league football in the North East.
The CFS logo is featuring on all South Shields first-team and replica shirts this season as part of an exciting link-up between the club and CEFO Group, which is also Blyth’s main sponsor.
Kick-off at Croft Park is at 3pm and admission prices are £8 for adults, £5 for over-65s and £3 for under-16s.
Supporters are strongly advised to purchase tickets in advance from Blyth’s website by clicking here.