South Shields ended Matlock Town’s 10-match unbeaten run in the Evo-Stik Premier Division in emphatic style as they honoured the memory of Jak Fada with a 5-0 win.
Just over a year on from the 10-year-old’s tragic death, the club labelled the match against Matlock as Jak Fada Day as children were allowed entry to the ground for free.
Those present watched a terrific display from Shields, who raced into a 3-0 first half lead thanks to an opener from Carl Finnigan and two from Gavin Cogdon.
The Mariners continued their dominance after half-time and wrapped up the three points with further goals from Jon Shaw and David Foley.
The result kept Shields seventh in the table, nine points off table-topping Nantwich Town with four games in hand.
They went into Saturday’s match expecting a difficult encounter against arguably the league’s most in-form side.
However, despite a strong opening five minutes from Matlock, Shields were in control throughout and thoroughly deserved their comfortable victory.
The Mariners first threatened a breakthrough in the ninth minute when a clearance from visiting goalkeeper Ross Durrant fell to the feet of Ursene Mouanda 30 yards out, and the midfielder was not far away from registering his first goal for the club as his effort looped just over.
They did not have to wait too much longer, though.
Captain Shaw clipped a ball over the top and Lee Mason ran onto it before rounding Durrant and seeing his shot from a tight angle cleared off the line by Adam Yates. Finnigan was determined to get to the loose ball first and did so before ramming it first time into the roof of the net.
It was a poignant moment as Finnigan opened the scoring in the 11th minute – Jak Fada would have been 11 now.
Shields played some outstanding football in the first half and doubled their lead after a terrific flowing move.
Robert Briggs played the ball inside from the right to Finnigan, who hit it first-time beyond the defence for Mason to run onto. Mason sent it across the face of goal and it struck defender Taron Hare before bouncing in off the knee of Cogdon.
Mason was at the heart of much of Shields’ best play and he was unfortunate not to add to the scoring when he got on the end of a Finnigan flick-on and fired over.
Goal number three did arrive before the half-hour mark as Blair Adams split the defence with a superb through ball and Cogdon raced onto it before beating Durrant with an audacious dink.
Matlock were perhaps fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men shortly afterwards when Durrant appeared to handle the ball outside the box, but the referee ruled it was inside the area and then penalised Cogdon, who had stolen the ball from the goalkeeper.
Shields hit the bar a minute before half-time when a Briggs corner was headed against the woodwork by a Matlock defender, and Cogdon almost completed a first half hat-trick as Durrant kept out his low drive.
There was no complacency in the second half from the Mariners, who extended their advantage in the 52nd minute.
Briggs curled in a terrific free-kick from the right and Shaw directed a brilliant header into the opposite corner to end any hopes Matlock had of staging a dramatic comeback.
Finnigan went close again when he fired over from a Briggs through ball, before Matlock hit the post when a ball in from the right was diverted towards goal.
Adams, Mason and Craig Baxter all went close, and Phil Turnbull almost netted his first goal for Shields as a ball across the area from Gary Brown was smashed into the side netting.
The fifth goal did arrive six minutes from the end when Briggs again split the defence with a fine through ball and Foley produced a sublime disguised finish on his 100th appearance for the club.
Foley was denied from point-blank range soon after but Shields had already done more than enough to secure the three points.
Next Saturday’s trip to Nantwich promises to be quite some occasion.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Mouanda (Brown 71), Briggs, Mason, Finnigan (Gillies 59), Cogdon (Foley 64). Subs not used: Lough, Harmison.
Goals: Finnigan (11), Cogdon (21, 27), Shaw (52), Foley (84).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
Strike pair Carl Finnigan and Gavin Cogdon could be in line for a return to action when South Shields host Hyde United in the Buildbase FA Trophy on Saturday.
Finnigan is available again having served a two-match suspension following a sending off in the league trip to Hyde last month.
Cogdon, meanwhile, is back in contention after missing the last seven matches with a hamstring injury he sustained in the Emirates FA Cup loss to Stockport County in September.
Finnigan is back after serving his second suspension of the season.
He is raring to go ahead of Hyde’s visit on Saturday.
The striker said: “I’m absolutely gutted to have had two red cards this season.
“It’s the first time it has happened to me in 15 years, and I’m devastated about it.
“Unfortunately, the way I play means there’s always going to be a chance, because I work so hard and play near to the edge as I’m trying my best to win games.
“I need to manage it a bit better without changing the way I play.
“I’m so passionate and desperate to win every game so much that sometimes I can get caught up in the moment.
“Maybe I just need to enjoy it a bit more and not concentrate everything on wanting to win so much.”
Finnigan is also feeling fitter than ever.
He added: “I want to play every game so it’s no good being sent off.
“Physically I feel fantastic.
“I’m 32 going on 23, or at least that’s the way I feel.
“I’ve looked after my body and I’m still passionate about fitness, which I’m benefiting from now.”
Read a full interview with Carl Finnigan in Saturday’s match programme.
South Shields were eliminated from the Integro Cup at the first round stage as Morpeth Town ran out 4-1 winners at Mariners Park on Tuesday.
Morpeth were clinical and their experience told in front of a crowd of almost 1,000.
Shields joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton opted to make a number of changes with Saturday’s huge FA Cup tie with Stockport County looming large.
Academy prospects Tom Bexton, Lewis Orrell and Arron Thompson were handed their competitive first-team debuts, while there were also first appearances of the season for Brendan Pearson, Callum Guy, Karl Ross and substitutes Dan Lowther and Lee Mason.
Shields will have seen the match as a useful learning experience for some of the club’s brightest talents and valuable for those first-team players in need of minutes on the pitch.
Morpeth were close to full strength and took the lead in spectacular fashion as former Shields defender Iulian Petrache let fly from 35 yards and picked out the top corner with a stunning strike.
Sean Taylor had a chance to make it two before the half-hour mark, but skewed his effort wide from close range.
Shields’ best effort in the first half was a free-kick from Dan Wright a minute before the break, but goalkeeper Dan Lowson did well to hold it.
Morpeth doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time when a cross from the left bounced in the area and was blasted into the roof of the net by another former Shields man, Adam Burnicle.
The Mariners came quickly out of the blocks in the second half and got an early reward when Gavin Cogdon blasted in a low free-kick from the edge of the box.
They went on to have their best spell of the game and had a number of half chances to equalise.
Cogdon had a shot deflected wide, Dan Lowther’s effort from a tight angle was saved and two attempts from the edge of the box were blocked.
Morpeth were always dangerous, though, and almost restored their two goal advantage when substitute Liam Henderson was played in on the inside right of the box and his effort cannoned against the post via the hand of Liam Connell, who had been brought on midway through the first half after Pearson was withdrawn injured.
Morpeth did make it 3-1 with 14 minutes left thanks to a superb individual effort from substitute Ben Sayer, who showed fine footwork before firing a brilliant effort into the top corner from 20 yards.
Chris Hunter had a shot blocked as Shields looked to pull one back but Morpeth completed the scoring in stoppage time to give the scoreline a harsh look for the Mariners.
Again it was Sayer on the scoresheet as he finished coolly from close range.
Shields can now concentrate their full efforts on Saturday’s FA Cup second qualifying round tie against Stockport at Mariners Park.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pearson (Connell 27), Hunter, Lough, Thompson, Bexton, Brown (c), Guy (Lowther 61), Ross, Cogdon (Mason 77), Orrell, Wright. Subs not used: Adams, Mouanda.
Goal: Cogdon (48).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.