South Shields take on Matlock Town on Saturday in a battle between two of the Pitching In Northern Premier League’s early pace-setters.
The sides are fourth and fifth in the table respectively heading into the game at 1st Cloud Arena, with a capacity crowd of 300 expected to be in attendance.
Admittance is restricted to season ticket holders in bubble two – those with a surname beginning with a letter between M and Z, as well as those who notified the club they were not attending the previous home fixture against Radcliffe – as well as season ticket holders with surnames beginning with the letter D and L after those letters were randomly selected on Friday afternoon.
Those not able to attend the game can view a live stream at a price of £5 by clicking here. Pre-match coverage will get underway at 2.30pm.
Shields joint manager Graham Fenton has called on his side to rise to the challenge against a much-improved team on Saturday.
Matlock were among the Pitching In Northern Premier League’s strugglers last season but have started this campaign well, and are just a point and a place behind fourth-placed Shields heading into the match.
Manager Paul Phillips strengthened his squad significantly over the summer and the Gladiators are being tipped as potential promotion contenders, so joint manager Fenton knows the sort of test which awaits his side this weekend.
The Mariners go into the game buoyed by Tuesday’s win on penalties against National League North side Southport in the Emirates FA Cup.
That booked a fourth qualifying round tie at home to National League outfit FC Halifax Town next Saturday, but for now Shields’ full focus is on the league.
After coming through a difficult battle against a direct and physical opponent in midweek, Fenton is ready for more of the same as Matlock visit 1st Cloud Arena.
He said: “We are fully expecting a really tough game against a physical Matlock side who have had some good results recently.
“They have brought in new staff and players since we last played them so we will be facing somewhat of a new challenge, but it’s one we’re looking forward to.
“We have done as much research as possible and feel like we have come up with a gameplan to cause Matlock plenty of problems to deal with.
“We envisage that it may be similar to the Southport game on Tuesday in terms of Matlock being a very physical, direct team who put plenty of balls into the box.
“Our aim is to deal with those situations as well as we did against Southport in midweek.”
Shields remain without midfielders Nathan Lowe and Luke Daly going into the 3pm kick-off, with both players still recovering from knee injuries.
Jon Shaw and Blair Adams are battling to be fit for the match after being withdrawn with niggles during Tuesday’s game, while defender Ciaren Jones is in contention after being added to the squad.
Although Thursday’s FA Cup draw provided Shields with another exciting test to come, they are determined not to be distracted from their main aim this season, which is to win promotion.
Games such as Saturday’s will be vital to their chances.
Fenton added: “I’m sure Matlock will be coming here with confidence after their 4-1 victory over Ashton last weekend.
“They have had lots of changes within their club over the past few months and we fully expect them to be in the mix towards the end of the season in terms of play-off places and promotion.
“This will be a really tough test physically and psychologically for us, but we’re really looking forward to that challenge.”
South Shields make the first of two trips in four days to Ashton United on Tuesday for a Pitching In Northern Premier League fixture.
The Mariners will be looking to continue their positive start to the season which has featured a win and a draw in the league, as well as progression in the Emirates FA Cup.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side have yet to concede a goal across their three competitive matches, although they know they will be tested by an Ashton side which won 1-0 at Stafford Rangers on the opening day, and followed that up with a victory at Scarborough Athletic in the FA Cup.
Shields defeated Ashton 3-0 and 2-0 last season, but are expecting to come up against a much-improved team under the management of former Atherton Collieries boss Michael Clegg.
While the Mariners will be looking to emulate their defensive efforts of the first three games, improved creativity is a priority as they head to Greater Manchester.
Joint manager Fenton said: “You get a tough game against Ashton every time.
“We’ll be looking to do the same defensively and work as hard as we have done in the first three matches.
“The great thing about what we’re doing at the moment keeping clean sheets is that the lads are working exceptionally hard for each other.
“We now just need to get the other side of the game a little bit better to go and score goals.”
The match will kick-off at 7.45pm at Hurst Cross (OL6 8DY) and those planning to attend are strongly advised to buy tickets in advance to avoid disappointment. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here and admission prices are £10 for adults and £6 for concessions.
The club will provide updates throughout the match on Twitter, while Ashton’s live stream of the game is available at a cost of £6 by clicking here. Supporters can also watch the match at 1st Cloud Arena at an entry price of £2 per person, with the TGS Bar to be open between 7pm and 10pm.
The sides’ two meetings last season produced five goals for Shields and none in return from Ashton.
Robert Briggs and Gary Brown netted in a 3-0 win for the Mariners at 1st Cloud Arena last August, with Jason Gilchrist completing the scoring with his first competitive goal for the club on a night which also saw Jordan Hunter make his debut.
Gilchrist did the damage again in the return fixture, scoring both goals in a 2-0 victory as Wouter Verstraaten made his debut for Shields.
Shields will be without four players for the match, with Luke Daly, Josh Gillies, Phil Turnbull and Sam Hodgson all unavailable through injury.
Alex Kempster could make his competitive debut for the club after recovering from a foot injury, though, while Blair Adams is also available after shrugging off the dead leg he picked up in Saturday’s goalless draw at Hyde United.
A place in the second qualifying round of the Emirates FA Cup is at stake on Tuesday as South Shields travel to Warrington Town.
Shields travel to Cantilever Park having kicked-off their Pitching In Northern Premier League campaign with a 3-0 victory over Mickleover at 1st Cloud Arena on Saturday.
They know Tuesday’s opponents well, having had a number of testing encounters against the Yellows over recent seasons, including the 2018-19 season’s play-off final, which Warrington won 2-1.
A maximum crowd of 600 will be in attendance to see the sides do battle again, with tickets available from Warrington’s website by clicking here and then entering the code shields2209 when prompted.
Shields are expected to be without Alex Kempster, who missed Saturday’s game with a bruised foot, while Gary Brown is also a doubt for the 7.45pm kick-off and Luke Daly continues to miss out with his knee injury.
Joint manager Graham Fenton knows exactly what sort of test awaits the Mariners against Warrington.
He said: “You always get a tough game against Warrington.
“Paul (Carden, manager) gets them really well-organised, they’re difficult to play against and we always have competitive games.
“I’m sure this one will be no different.”