South Shields and Blyth Spartans played out a 2-2 draw for the third time in succession in an entertaining friendly at Mariners Park on Saturday.
The teams had also shared four goals during their preparations for the 2015-16 and 2017-18 seasons.
They could not be separated again on South Tyneside on Saturday as Blyth came from two goals down in the first half to take a share of the spoils.
Shields joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton were left to reflect on a great deal of positives as their side more than matched their National League North opponents for long spells.
It was Spartans who came out of the blocks the quicker, though, with Dan Maguire finding the net within a minute. Fortunately for the Mariners, the flag was up for offside.
Shields broke the deadlock in the ninth minute after some superb play by the ever-lively Josh Gillies on the right flank.
He ran down the wing before clipping a low ball into the area for a trialist, who took a touch and picked out the bottom corner to delight the home crowd.
The Mariners enjoyed a dominant spell after the goal and went close on a number of occasions.
Former Shields loanee Pete Jameson did a terrific job in the Blyth goal to keep his side’s deficit at one, clawing away a Craig Baxter cross before denying a trialist and then watching a Darren Lough effort whistle past his post.
He could do nothing to prevent the hosts doubling their lead on 20 minutes, though, as the pressure paid off.
Gillies was again at the heart of it as he delivered an impressive cross from the right which Carl Finnigan nodded past Jameson to notch his second goal of pre-season.
Blyth pulled one back in the 33rd minute when the prolific Maguire was played in on goal and made no mistake as he slotted past Liam Connell.
Alun Armstrong’s team enjoyed their best spell after gaining a foothold. Former Shields players Alex Nicholson and Jamie Holmes combined for their next chance, with the latter denied by blocks from Baxter and Phil Turnbull.
Holmes curled a later effort wide and Connell did well to save from Nathan Buddle, but Spartans got back on level terms a minute into first half stoppage time when a Connell parry fell to the feet of Michael Liddle, who blasted the ball into the net.
Shields recovered their composure early in the second half, and went close when Baxter played in Finnigan before the striker saw his effort blocked by Buddle.
Jameson did brilliantly to keep Blyth level just before the hour mark when a trialist was played through on goal and his effort was superbly kicked away by the goalkeeper.
Robert Briggs was introduced at half-time by Fenton and Picton as he made his first appearance of pre-season.
He almost marked it with an early goal of the season contender as he beat two men in midfield before beating Jameson with an audacious chip which just cleared the crossbar.
Opportunities were harder to come by in the closing stages as both teams made a number of changes, but the Mariners almost won it in stoppage time.
Chris Hunter chipped a superb ball over the top for Michael Colquhoun, who fired just over as the sides were forced to settle for a draw.
Shields will hope to build on their positive afternoon when they take on Hebburn Town at Mariners Park on Wednesday.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell (Stephenson 76), Baxter (Hunter 61), Lough (Trialist 46), Shaw (c) (Bexton 61), Morse, Turnbull (Trialist 61), Gillies (Judson 76), Trialist (Cowburn 76), Finnigan (M Colquhoun 76), Trialist (Briggs 46), Trialist (Smith 53).
Goals: Trialist (9), Finnigan (20).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields take on Blyth Spartans on Saturday as they step up their preparations for the Evo-Stik Premier Division season.
The Mariners have recorded two wins out of two in pre-season but are expecting their toughest test yet against Alun Armstrong’s Spartans, who narrowly missed out on a National League North play-off place last season.
The clash with Blyth will see Shields joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton come up against one of their former clubs, with both having spent time among the backroom team at Croft Park.
The links continue on the pitch, too, with Spartans set to include former Shields players Jamie Holmes, Alex Nicholson, Pete Jameson and Adam Wrightson in their squad.
Picton is expecting a difficult encounter in the 3pm kick-off at Mariners Park.
He said: “We know it’s going to provide a real stern test for us, but we’re really looking forward to the challenge and taking another step closer to where we want to be.
“Blyth will be a couple of weeks ahead of us, because their competitive season starts on August 4, whereas we’ve still got another month before we start ours.
“Hopefully that will not be reflected too much in the game and we’ll give as good as we get, which I’m sure we will.
“We had a really good, competitive friendly against them at Blyth last season and we’ll look to do the same again this year.”
Shields beat Consett 2-1 last Friday and then triumphed 4-3 against a team put together by agency Catalyst Professional Sports Management on Tuesday.
A number of academy prospects made their mark on Tuesday, including Max Cowburn, who scored a stunning goal.
Picton is expecting more youngsters to make a name for themselves in pre-season.
He added: “One of the frustrations of non-league and part-time football is that in pre-season you probably won’t have all of the first-team squad together and available at any one time.
“That brings with it challenges but it’s understandable and where we’re at.
“People need to have holidays and spend time with their families and we completely understand that.
“That also brings opportunities for other players.
“We finished Tuesday’s game with six of the 11 players on the pitch being academy level at the club, and they possibly gave the fans the most entertaining portion of the game.
“It obviously gets stretched in the latter stages, but it was really good to see lads who myself and Graham have worked with day-in, day-out get that opportunity, and some of them got that opportunity for the first time.
“I’m sure that brought with it some nerves, but at the same time, they did really well.
“It was nice to finish the game on the winning side, and those young lads played a big part in that.”
HISTORY – with Bob Wray
South Shields and Blyth Spartans are old friends, and an examination of their careers shows that the clubs first met in 1907, when Shields were then titled South Shields Adelaide, eight years after their formation and then a member of the Northern Alliance.
The earlier South Shields Athletic met the Spartans 10 years earlier in the same league.
South Shields Adelaide joined the North Eastern League in 1909 and Blyth also prior to WWI.
Shields dropped the affix Adelaide in 1910, and became a member of the Football League in 1919. The reserve XI then played Blyth Spartans in the NEL until 1930.
Shields reformed in 1936 and played against the Spartans in the NEL, and both clubs joined the Midland League in 1958 and the Northern Counties League in 1960, until in 1963 Blyth joined the Northern League.
Since then they have progressed to higher levels of the non-league game and currently are a member of the National League North.
South Shields will take on Consett and Tadcaster Albion as part of their preparations for the 2018-19 Evo-Stik Premier Division season.
Friendlies against Blyth Spartans and Cleethorpes Town, as well as the club’s participation in the South Shields FC International Tournament with Celtic, Marseille and Southampton’s Under-23 sides, were announced earlier this month.
The club can now confirm that its pre-season schedule will begin with a home fixture against Northern League outfit Consett on Friday, July 13.
The clubs struck up a friendship over many years of competition in the Northern League, and last met in April 2017, when Shields won 1-0 at Mariners Park on their way to winning the league title.
A trip to Tadcaster Albion, who the Mariners came up against in the 2017-18 Evo-Stik North Division campaign, has also been added to the pre-season programme.
Shields will visit the i2i Stadium on Saturday, August 4 in what is due to be their penultimate friendly of the summer.
An additional pre-season game is expected to be announced soon, and it is due to take place on Tuesday, July 24 at Mariners Park.
Here is the club’s pre-season schedule so far:
Friday, July 13: Consett (H)
Saturday, July 21: Blyth Spartans (H)
Tuesday, July 24: TBC (H)
Saturday, July 28: Southampton Under-23s (H) – South Shields FC International Tournament (PURCHASE TICKETS BY CLICKING HERE)
Sunday, July 29: Celtic Under-23s or Marseille Under-23s (H) – South Shields FC International Tournament (PURCHASE TICKETS BY CLICKING HERE)
Saturday, August 4: Tadcaster Albion (A)
Saturday, August 11: Cleethorpes Town (A)