South Shields came from behind to defeat Consett as they began their FA Youth Cup campaign with a 4-1 victory on Thursday.
The young Mariners – who reached the third round of the competition last season – showed early signs of nerves as they fell behind to a Will Gallagher goal.
They soon found their stride, though, and after Charlie McLeod and Harvey Neary had fired them into a half-time lead, Oscar Taylor added two more goals after the break to earn Shields a trip to North Shields in the first qualifying round.
Jon Shaw and Wess Brown’s side was lacking in Youth Cup experience, with many of the players who performed so admirably in 2019-20 having now moved into the Under-19s age group.
They almost started this season’s run in the competition in some style as McLeod and Declan Bissett combined well before McLeod fizzed a shot wide from 20 yards.
Shields fell behind on the quarter-hour mark, though, as goalkeeper Callum Dobson made a sharp save but Gallagher was on hand to convert the rebound.
The young Mariners gained the upper hand after that and deservedly brought themselves back on level terms midway through the first half.
Dom Agnew – who made an impressive 90-minute appearance for the first-team in Tuesday’s win over York City – launched a ball over the top and McLeod beat the goalkeeper to it before stroking an effort home.
They went close to a quickfire double as McLeod motored down the right flank and delivered a low cross which Taylor flicked wide, with the striker denied again soon after as he was found by another right-wing delivery.
McLeod was at the heart of much of Shields’ most impressive work and he went close to doubling his tally for the night when he angled an effort just past the post after gliding across the pitch from right to left.
Shields did get the second goal they had been threatening just before half-time as another ball over the top caused confusion and this time Harvey Neary got their first to prod home from the inside-right of the area.
There were chances at both ends at the start of the second half, with McLeod’s cross sent just wide by Taylor for the Mariners before Dobson was forced to make a decent save to preserve his side’s lead.
The Mariners registered the game’s crucial fourth goal just after the hour mark as substitute Jack Wilkinson received the ball on the right and sent in a low cross which Taylor controlled well before turning and calmly picking out the bottom corner.
Shields were in full control by that stage and after Wilkinson and Taylor had gone close to making it 4-1, Taylor did just that as he slid an effort across the goalkeeper after being found in space in the box.
The only debate left open was whether Taylor could complete his hat-trick but after Wilkinson picked him out with a menacing delivery from the right, he fired over from close range.
It was a promising start in the Youth Cup for the young Mariners and they can now look forward to a rematch with neighbours North Shields, who they defeated on their route to the third round last season.
South Shields: Dobson, Neary, Hopper, Williamson, Stout, Agnew, McLeod (Wilkinson 55), Cooper, Taylor, Bissett (Witheat 76), Ryland (Lukeman 62). Subs not used: Walker, Baker, Gardiner.
Goals: McLeod (23), Neary (43), Taylor (61, 81).
South Shields’ Under-18s will begin their bid to emulate last season’s achievements in the FA Youth Cup when they travel to Consett on Thursday.
The young Mariners memorably reached the third round of the competition in 2019-20, beating the likes of Harrogate Town, Morecambe and Hartlepool United before falling at the hands of a richly talented Fulham side.
Jon Shaw and Wess Brown’s team will again start in the preliminary round in 2020-21 as they travel to Consett, whose first-team reached the final of the FA Vase at the weekend.
The match will take place at Belle View (DH8 7BF) and is set to kick-off at 7.30pm, with admission costing £2 for adults and £1 for concessions.
The winners will travel to North Shields – who the Mariners defeated on their run to round three last season – in the first qualifying round.
South Shields returned to action with a win as they began their pre-season programme against Consett at Mariners Park on Friday.
New signing Josh Gillies and midfielder Dan Lowther were on target as the Mariners defeated their Northern League opponents 2-1.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton fielded a side which included Gillies and fellow new boy Phil Turnbull, and they started brightly as they gained control of possession.
A trialist went close to giving the hosts the lead in the eighth minute when he brilliantly tricked his way past a defender on the inside-left of the box before curling a shot over.
Gillies showed his quality with a through ball to Michael Richardson soon after, but the midfielder saw his effort blocked.
Shields kept up the pressure and got their reward on 17 minutes when Carl Finnigan laid the ball off to Gillies, who kept his composure and slotted home from 12 yards.
Turnbull tested visiting goalkeeper Ross Coombes with a drive from the edge of the box later in the half, but the Consett youngster was equal to the effort as he pushed it away.
At the other end, Liam Connell kept out two long-range attempts by Calvin Smith, and the closest Shields came to extending their lead before half-time came when Richardson fizzed a low shot across the box which just evaded a touch.
The Mariners changed their entire team at half-time, with Gary Brown and Chris Hunter among those brought on as they made their first appearances for the club.
A trialist twice went close to extending the home side’s lead, and Matty Pattison was one of the main bright sparks as he started pre-season in sharp form.
Some good work by Pattison on the right led to a chance for youngster Arron Thompson, but his shot was flicked off the line.
Consett did have some bright moments, and striker Michael Sweet may have thought he had equalised when his sweet strike arrowed towards goal, but Brown was on hand to brilliantly block and clear the danger.
Less than a minute later, Shields doubled their lead as Pattison again caught the eye by keeping possession and then teasing the ball past the defence to Lowther, who rolled it into the bottom corner.
Pattison and Lowther had opportunities to make it three but the Mariners did not find the mark again.
In the end, it was Consett who had the final say as Josh Gray picked out the bottom corner with the final kick of the game.
SOUTH SHIELDS (first half): Connell, Baxter, Trialist, Lough, Morse, Turnbull, Richardson, Smith (c), Finnigan, Trialist, Gillies.
SOUTH SHIELDS (second half): Stephenson, Hunter, Cooper, Shaw, Brown, Ross, Pattison, Thompson, Lowther, Trialist, Cowburn.
Goals: Gillies (17), Lowther (69).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.