South Shields booked their place in the first qualifying round of the FA Youth Cup on Tuesday with a terrific 4-3 win at Stockton Town.
The young Mariners came from 2-0 and 3-2 behind to get the better of Stockton in the seven-goal thriller at the Coverall Stadium.
A tie against Spennymoor Town at Mariners Park awaits Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s youngsters after they showed tremendous character to win on Teesside.
They got off to the worst possible start as they fell behind in the first minute.
Jayden Gray was played in on goal for the hosts and finished coolly to put Shields on the back foot.
Stockton’s fast start continued when Michael Davis’ cross from the left found Joe Smith, but he could not get his effort on target.
The Mariners grew into the game and had a good chance to level when Dom Minchella was played into a shooting position, but Jack McCall kept out his shot.
Shields started to control possession and some fine patterns of play offered real hope that they would draw back on level terms.
Michael Colquhoun was at the heart of many of their best moves and he looked certain to score when he went one-on-one with McCall, before he appeared to be tripped by the goalkeeper. Referee Matthew Carroll waved away the appeals, though, and it looked like that decision could prove crucial.
Stockton countered and won a free-kick 25 yards from goal which Gray struck brilliantly to double their advantage.
At 2-0 behind, it was set to be a huge test of the young Mariners’ character. They passed it with flying colours.
If anything, the second Stockton goal seemed to spur Shields on even more, and they deservedly pulled a goal back in the 27th minute when Will McCamley was played in on goal before he rounded McCall and finished well.
The Mariners enjoyed a dominant spell and got their reward five minutes into the second half.
Despite being outnumbered, Colquhoun showed superb strength and composure to beat his man on the edge of the box before firing a low effort which McCall could not keep out.
Most observers would have predicted a victory for Shields at that stage, but the Anchors fought back and retook the lead soon after.
A free-kick from Brad Marron was headed in by Mitchell Wilson as the hosts showed impressive character of their own.
Again, though, Shields were not to be denied.
Jordan Patterson twice went close to equalising – heading one opportunity just wide and another against the crossbar – before Colquhoun netted again as he showed more good strength before finishing well.
Substitute Stephen Black almost put Shields into the lead for the first time with 20 minutes left when he arrowed a stunning effort from 25 yards which came back off the bar.
The pressure was building and Shields got their reward in the 79th minute when a Bailey Judson free-kick was parried by McCall to Sam Hodgson, who forced it into the net.
The Mariners saw out the victory well to claim their place in the next round, when they will host Spennymoor Town at Mariners Park on a date yet to be confirmed.
SOUTH SHIELDS: E Hodgson, Yembe, Scott, Carney, Patterson (c), Lockey, McCamley, Ridley (Black 55), M Colquhoun, Minchella (S Hodgson 46), Judson (Morris 82). Subs not used: Wade, Green.
Goals: McCamley (27), Colquhoun (50, 67), S Hodgson (79).
The club’s academy players are set to taste their first competitive action of the season on Tuesday when they begin their FA Youth Cup bid.
The Under-18s from the SSFC Academy set-up are away to Stockton Town in the preliminary round of the prestigious competition.
The winners will face Spennymoor Town in the first qualifying round – the team which knocked the young Mariners out of the Youth Cup last season.
Tuesday’s match will be played at the Coverall Stadium in Bishopton Road West, which has a post code of TS19 0QD.
Several Shields players with first-team experience will be available for the 7pm kick-off, including Ethan Biwer, Jordan Patterson, Ollie Scott, Michael Colquhoun, Bailey Judson and Dom Minchella.
The team will be managed by Lee Picton and Graham Fenton, and Picton is expecting a difficult encounter.
He said: “Stockton will be strong, because they’ve established a really good reputation for their youth set-up.
“Their first-team squad which played at Wembley last season in the FA Vase final featured a number of players who had played for the club at junior level.
“They will provide a really stern test for our players.
“Having said that, we have massive belief in our academy players, particularly the ones who have had a full year with us already and who we have seen huge developments from over that course of time.”
Picton has full confidence that the young Mariners will be able to produce a positive result.
He added: “They really are an exciting group to work with and I’m sure the first-team experience that many of them enjoyed at some stage last season will hold them in good stead in competitions like this.
“We also feel that we have recruited a really talented new group of first-years who can push the older players in the academy really hard, and maybe even earn some first-team experience for themselves t some stage in the upcoming season.”
SSFC Academy teams will compete in the National League Under-19 Alliance and the ECFA Category One Premier League this season, with games in both leagues to take place on Wednesday afternoons.
Details of upcoming fixtures will be announced in due course.
Admission prices for Tuesday’s game at Stockton are £2 for adults, £1 for over-65s and £1 for children, although children are free if accompanied by a paying adult.
The in-form SSFC Academy face their biggest match so far tonight when they host Spennymoor Town in the FA Youth Cup.
The second qualifying round tie kicks off at 7pm at Mariners Park, and any support would be hugely appreciated. Admission is £2 for adults and £1 for concessions.
This is the academy’s fifth match of the season. They have four wins out of four so far, with an incredible 34 goals scored in the process, and none conceded.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side beat Chester-le-Street Town 10-0 in the previous round, but are expecting a tougher test against Spennymoor under the Mariners Park floodlights.
The young Mariners’ most recent outing saw them thrash Harrogate Town 13-0 in the National League Under-19 Alliance on Wednesday as they continued their perfect start to the campaign.
The winners of tonight’s tie will progress to host Nantwich Town or Tranmere Rovers in the third qualifying round.
To compete in the 2017-18 FA Youth Cup, a player must have been born on or after September 1, 1999 and before September 1, 2002.