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.
With three games won, 12 goals scored and none conceded, it has been a successful week for SSFC Academy.
The young Mariners strengthened their position in two competitions during a three-day burst of fixtures as several players caught the eye.
Shields started the week with a 4-0 win over Gateshead in the National League Under-19 Alliance.
Aaron Steavens saved a first half penalty and Shields seized control when they took the lead on 35 minutes, Jack Wilkinson finishing well after a superb pass forward from George Lindo. Olly McCully struck twice in the second half and Oscar Taylor was also on the scoresheet as the points were secured.
The squad was split in two on Wednesday at Washington Hub as two fixtures were negotiated.
The young Mariners thrashed Blyth Spartans 5-0 in the Under-19 Alliance after being sent on their way with a six-minute first half hat-trick from Sam Hodgson. Two Tom Green goals in the final 15 minutes completed the scoring.
A further victory was claimed in the ECFA Premier Cup against Sunderland College, with Jamie Whitehead, Taylor and McCully netting in a 3-0 success to set up a tie with Wick College.
Head of Professional Development Jon Shaw has been delighted with the progress shown by the youngsters over recent weeks.
He said: “Lots of progress has been made, especially by the first years.
“When they first came in they were quite far behind the Under-18s and Under-19s because they hadn’t had the intense coaching.
“Over the last month we’ve really tried to step it up with the players in getting them to execute the first-team standards and formation.
“We’ve seen quite a lot of big improvements and it’s positive going into the second half of the season.
“In the Gateshead game against a mainly Under-19s team, we had eight Under-17s playing and all four goals were scored by Under-17s.
“It has been great to see.”
Hodgson’s hat-trick against Blyth will catch the eye, with the striker having been involved heavily at first-team level over recent weeks.
Shaw added: “It was great to see him score a hat-trick after being involved with the first-team.
“He has been a little bit frustrated with game-time floating between the academy and first-team recently.
“Wednesday’s performance and goals showed that the time with the first-team is obviously benefitting him and it has been good to hear those frustrations from him.
“All he wanted to do is play and that’s the type of player you want.”