South Shields’ Academy players have enjoyed another largely positive week – with the highlight coming as they progressed in the ECFA League play-offs.
The young Mariners kicked off the week with a trip to Scarborough Athletic in the National League Under-19 Alliance on Monday.
There were plenty of positives to take from the game at Flamingo Land Stadium, but there was late disappointment for Shields as they fell to a 4-3 defeat.
Jon Shaw and Wess Brown took a team mainly made up of first-year Academy players to North Yorkshire and they had a slow start to the game, when it became evident it would be an open affair.
Scarborough struck the first goal of the afternoon but Shields battled back well, with strikes from Rob Ryland and Geoff Hearn putting them into a winning position.
The aim at the start of the second half for the Mariners was to continue where they left off at the end of the first 45 minutes, but they conceded an equaliser and a controversial penalty was then awarded against them when Lewis Black was adjudged to have handled in the box. Ethan Hodgson saved the spot-kick but was then ruled to have stepped off his line, resulting in a retake, when a different penalty taker converted to put Scarborough 3-2 in front.
Shields continued to dominate possession and equalised with five minutes remaining as Josh Elcoate notched a penalty before they pressed for a winner.
They looked set to find it when Jack Wilkinson was played in on goal but an apparent foul on the forward went unpunished and the Seadogs counter-attacked before scoring what proved to be the winner from a corner.
Head of Professional Development Jon Shaw said: “Although the result was disappointing, it wasn’t the be all and end all.
“There were a lot of real positives in the way the lads played, but they need to understand how to manage games and be a bit more ruthless when they have so much possession.
“The lads were unfortunate on the day.”
The Academy returned to action with two matches on Wednesday, which included a trip to Barnsley in the first play-off round of the ECFA League.
The young Mariners knew they were in for a difficult afternoon against a team which had won their league and they started slowly, whereas Barnsley looked sharp and dangerous, and caused Shields problems in the early stages.
Shields started to get to grips with the game and although they fell behind, they levelled things up before half-time when Will Jenkins brilliantly found Oscar Taylor and he made it 1-1.
The Mariners’ second half performance was much-improved and there were a number of impressive performances. Jamie Whitehead gave them the lead when he won and converted a penalty, and the victory was secured when Taylor notched his second in the closing stages to seal a 3-1 win.
In the National League Under-19 Youth Alliance, meanwhile, another youthful side impressively defeated Harrogate Town 5-2.
A difficult game was expected against a Harrogate side which won the reverse fixture 3-0.
First-team joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton took charge of the team for the match and they oversaw a hugely positive performance.
A hat-trick from Hearn was added to by goals from Wilkinson and Joao Gomes as the three points were secured.
SSFC Academy overcame an injury crisis to register two more wins across two competitions in midweek.
A combination of injuries and a number of players being out on loan meant Jon Shaw and Wess Brown had just 22 players to select from for the games against Wyke College in the ECFA Premier Cup and Frickley Athletic in the National League Under-19 Alliance on Wednesday.
They overcame that challenge with flying colours, with a 3-1 win over Wyke booking the Academy’s place in the next round and a 9-1 success against Frickley earning another three points in the league.
The win over Hull-based Wyke was a deserved one for Shields, who dominated much of proceedings but at times struggled to find a breakthrough.
Jamie Whitehead continued his impressive scoring goal by breaking the deadlock but Wyke equalised before half-time.
Goals from Joe Ames and Whitehead in the second half secured the young Mariners’ progression.
Head of Professional Development Jon Shaw said: “Wyke have had a good season and hadn’t lost a game before that.
“We were quite restricted with the squad as we only had 11 players available, and they were also a bit of an unknown for us with not being from the region.
“To progress was the most important thing although the performance was a little bit inconsistent.
“On another day we could have won by quite a comfortable margin but we were a bit wasteful when we got the ball into their half.
“They posed us some questions by pushing us back and trying to mark quite high, which the first-team have encountered a few times.
“It was interesting to see the lads deal with that and have a different learning experience.
“There were some really good performances, especially defensively from Mathew Wade, Dom Agnew, Josh Croft and Will Morris in front of Aaron Steavens. They were excellent.”
Sam Hodgson notched five goals in the 9-1 win over Frickley in Sheffield, with Geoff Hearn (2), Tom Green and Matty Williamson the other players on the scoresheet.
Shaw was impressed with the way the Academy players as a whole dealt with the injury situation.
He added: “We’ve got quite an injury crisis in the academy and a couple of lads out on loan.
“We only had two bare elevens available this week but to still score 12, concede just two and win two games of football was brilliant.
“It was a different kind of test for the players and one they’ll learn from.”