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.
Academy hot shot Sam Hodgson continued his outstanding run of form with another five goals in midweek in the young Mariners’ 6-0 win over Scarborough Athletic.
Hodgson has now scored 13 goals in his last three games at Academy level after running riot in the National League Under-19 Alliance encounter at Washington Hub.
Oscar Taylor was also on the scoresheet for Shields as they kept up their hopes of winning the title.
They are fourth in the table, 13 points behind leaders Carlisle United and with three matches in hand.
As Head of Professional Development Jon Shaw insists, though, it is the performances which are most valuable.
He said: “To concede no goals in the Youth Alliance game was really pleasing and shows that our structure is good.
“We’re doing really well defensively at the moment and having people like Kieran Charlton in the side obviously helps with his first-team experience.
“George Lindo had a really positive first game on loan at Whickham in their 0-0 draw against West Auckland so he came back full of confidence.
“At the other end of the pitch Sam Hodgson scored another five goals to take him up to 29 for the season in an Academy shirt, which is an outstanding number of goals.
“I would imagine people will understand it justifies why he has a contract at the club.
“There were a lot of good performances from young players, with Olly McCully and Stewart Cooper both continuing to perform well in an Under-19s league and on a daily basis in training and games.”
The Academy squad was again split in two on Wednesday, with another Shields side winning 6-2 against Gateshead College in the ECFA Premier League as they strengthened their position at the top of the table.
Oscar Taylor notched a hat-trick for the young Mariners, whose other goals were scored by Jamie Whitehead, Tom Green and Jake Dunn.
All in all, it was another hugely productive week.
Shaw added: “It was another two good results for the Academy in both the ECFA and Youth Alliance.
“We scored six goals in each game but as always, the performances were the most important things.
“We dominated quite a lot of the game against Gateshead and the 6-2 scoreline was probably fair.
“We asked the lads for a high intensity with and without the ball, and they delivered that for the full 90 minutes.
“Gateshead caused us a few problems with the way they set up but the players adapted really well and made lots of good decisions on the ball to create chances and get ourselves in front.
“We had a sloppy five-minute spell which led to a goal for Gateshead but that seemed to wake the lads up and they went again.
“There was another hat-trick from Oscar Taylor, who is another 17-year-old growing in confidence week by week.
“We played the last 10 minutes with 10 men and still managed to score two goals with one conceded.
“The lads weren’t willing to take their foot off the gas even though they were comfortably in front and down to 10 men. Their desire to score more goals was evident.”
There is another big week ahead for the Academy, who have three games to contend with.
On Monday they make the short trip to Monkseaton High School in the ECFA Premier League while on Wednesday there is a double header against Gateshead in the National League Under-19 Alliance and Coleg Cambria in the ECFA Premier Cup.
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.”