South Shields played their first match in 158 days as they began their pre-season programme with a 1-0 defeat to neighbours Hebburn Town on Tuesday.
The behind-closed-doors game saw Shields name two entirely different teams for the two halves as players were given an opportunity to phase their way back into match action.
As ever with pre-season the result was not paramount, and the Mariners will have been pleased with many aspects of their performance as some of the inevitable summer rust was chipped away.
Hebburn – playing their fourth friendly so far – ultimately claimed victory with a long-range strike from Robbie Spence four minutes before the end at 1st Cloud Arena.
Shields handed a first start to new signing Alex Kempster, with Academy left-back Josh Croft also in the line-up for the pre-season opener.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton’s side started with a period of sustained possession but chances were hard to come by at both end, with most of the play restricted to the middle third.
Myles Boney was called into action to make a relatively simple stop from former Shields striker Graeme Armstrong, with the goalkeeper also on hand to save an attempted chip by the same player.
At the other end, the hosts looked bright as Nathan Lowe, Jason Gilchrist, Gillies and Kempster linked up, and Gillies had a sight of goal on the half-hour mark but his effort went not far past the post.
The closest Shields came in the first half followed a loose pass by Hornets goalkeeper Mark Foden which was pounced on before Arron Thompson’s shot from the edge of the box was well blocked.
Gillies also tested Foden before the half was out while Boney denied Amar Purewal as the teams returned to the dressing room at half-time with the game goalless.
Shields introduced a new XI at the break which included Will McCamley, making his first senior appearance for the club after his return on loan from Huddersfield Town.
He was a bright spark on the left flank and had arguably Shields’ best chance to score, rounding the goalkeeper before seeing his shot blocked after some impressive play.
A trialist – brought on to play on the right – also had a good opportunity when he was played in down the right of the area but he pulled an effort narrowly wide with Foden beaten.
The Mariners were forced into a reshuffle midway through the second half as Jordan Hunter was forced off with an injury, with Croft reintroduced in his place and Blair Adams moving to an unnatural position of right-back.
Hebburn had their best spell of the game late on and rattled the crossbar with eight minutes remaining with a shot from Michael McKeown following a set-piece.
They took the lead with a terrific strike from 25 yards by Spence in the 86th minute, leaving the home side with little time to respond.
Shields did probe for an equaliser in the minutes which remained but were unable to find a way past Foden as the Hornets held onto their clean sheet and continued their unbeaten start to pre-season.
The Mariners are back in action on Friday with a fixture against West Auckland Town at 1st Cloud Arena.
South Shields (first half): Boney, Baxter, Croft, Turnbull, Morse, Verstraaten, Gillies, Thompson, Gilchrist, Lowe, Kempster.
South Shields (second half): Coombe, Hunter (Croft 67), Adams, Ross, Brown, Lockey, McCamley, Briggs, Hodgson, Jenkins, Trialist.
IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields get their pre-season games programme underway on Tuesday when they take on Hebburn Town at 1st Cloud Arena (7.30pm kick-off).
The match will be streamed live on the Mariners’ Facebook account, with coverage to get underway at about 7pm.
Chris May will present the coverage and will also be the lead commentator, with club captain Jon Shaw – unavailable for this match after picking up a knock in training – on co-commentary duties.
Shields have a 22-man squad to choose from for the game, with Darius Osei and Lee Mason also not in contention after picking up slight injuries in training.
The game is being played behind closed doors, with no supporters permitted to enter 1st Cloud Arena due to Government guidelines.
As well as the Facebook live stream, live updates will be provided on the club’s Twitter account and the club also hopes there will be a live stream on YouTube, and live commentary on Mixlr, although this will be confirmed either way closer to kick-off.
South Shields (from): Myles Boney, Ross Coombe, Blair Adams, Craig Baxter, Gary Brown, Josh Croft, Jordan Hunter, Joe Lockey, Dillon Morse, Wouter Verstraaten, Robert Briggs, Josh Gillies, Will Jenkins, Nathan Lowe, Will McCamley, Callum Ross, Arron Thompson, Phil Turnbull, Jason Gilchrist, Sam Hodgson, Alex Kempster, Trialist.
Lee Picton says South Shields are feeling “massively refreshed and hungry” as they prepare to return to action on Tuesday.
1st Cloud Arena will host its first match in 158 days as the Mariners take on neighbours Hebburn Town in their opening pre-season friendly.
The club greatly regrets that no supporters will be permitted into the ground due to Government guidelines, but it is hoped that the match will be shown live on Facebook as part of a live streaming trial to allow fans to remain a key part of the action.
Shields are looking ahead to the 2020-21 campaign with positivity, having had time to process the bitterly disappointing conclusion to the 2019-20 season, which was rendered null and void with the Mariners sitting 12 points clear at the top of the table.
Joint managers Picton and Graham Fenton have been impressed with what they have seen since the players returned to training earlier this month and are confident that the long period without a game will work in their favour.
Picton said: “Graham and I are absolutely delighted with where we’re at as a group right now.
“It’s early days but we honestly feel that we’re ahead of where we’ve been at this point in previous pre-seasons.
“Generally speaking, the players really looked after themselves over the difficult lockdown period and that, coupled with the really strong additions we feel we’ve made to the group over the summer, has resulted in a level of quality in training that has been absolutely fantastic.
“The period after the season was curtailed brought a number of opportunities.
“Sometimes as a manager you feel like you’re flying from one season straight into the next, so it’s often difficult to take a step back and really reflect and analyse everything that has happened.
“This year I think both myself and Graham took the opportunity to reflect on an even deeper level than we normally would.
“We feel massively refreshed and hungry to implement the changes to how we do things across the board and really look forward to seeing the results of those.”
Shields have made four additions to their squad so far this summer, with Myles Boney and Jordan Hunter converting their loan deals into permanent moves, Alex Kempster signing from York City and Will McCamley returning to the club on loan from Huddersfield Town.
Picton added: “In terms of personnel, we feel that we’re genuinely stronger across the board than this time last year.
“The competition for places throughout the squad is absolutely fantastic.
“We’re in no doubt that will drive greater standards and levels of performance across the board.”
Shields have confirmed the details of five pre-season friendlies as they prepare to hopefully begin their league campaign in mid-September.
A home game against West Auckland Town and trips to Stockton Town, Marske United and Gateshead are on the agenda after Tuesday’s meeting with Northern League Division One side Hebburn.
Picton recognises the importance of a strong period of preparation ahead of the season.
He said: “We finished last season by employing at least two or three different strategies tactically.
“These games give us an opportunity to build on that understanding and to start to figure out the best way forward for us as a group going into this season.
“We want to be very aggressive in our play in terms of our general energy and pressing strategy around the pitch.
“We feel that we’ve added more athleticism to the squad generally and need to utilise that in the right way.
“Pre-season also gives us the opportunity to employ strategies that will hopefully benefit the squad psychologically and socially so that when those tough challenges inevitably spring up in the season, we’re a really tight-knit group and can overcome those challenges in the most positive way possible.”
One of those early challenges for the Mariners will be playing matches without supporters on the sidelines cheering them on.
Picton is hoping it’s an experience Shields will not need to repeat on too many occasions.
He added: “It’s obviously going to be really strange.
“It might be a bit of a cliche, but football is all about the fans. Without them, we don’t have a game.
“I know so many people are desperate to get back to watch us as the club is a big part of their lives.
“Our interaction with the fans is such a big part of why we love the club and the sooner we can get back to some level of normality the better for everyone concerned.”
Kick-off at 1st Cloud Arena is at 7.30pm. Please head to the club’s Facebook page and, all being well, we will provide a full show from around 6.30pm including a preview of the match, live footage of the game itself and post-game reaction.