A smile is never far from the face of Joao Gomes – and the teenager has had plenty of reasons to grin from ear to ear this week.

Having worked tirelessly to impress during a two-year spell in South Shields’ Academy, the attacking midfielder has signed his first senior contract with the club and been promoted to the first-team squad.

He could be forgiven for basking in the achievement he has strived so hard for over the last two years, but behind that smile is a steely determination to make another significant jump.

Gomes is not about to step into the trap of believing signing a senior contract means he has made it. As he explains, he is only just getting started.

“The hard work starts now,” the 18-year-old said. “I’ve not got a first-team place just because I’ve signed this contract.

“I know I have to prove I belong here and I really want to earn those opportunities with the first-team, but I’m a confident guy when it comes to football.

“If you don’t believe in yourself it won’t work out for you so you can’t allow yourself to have any doubts.

“You have to trust your ability and make sure you always show what you’re made of.”

He has certainly done that since joining the club.

Gomes was an integral part of the side which progressed further than any previous Shields team in the FA Youth Cup in 2019-20, reaching the third round before a defeat to a supremely talented Fulham outfit.

He scored four goals along the way – including a dramatic late winner against Morecambe and a blockbuster from long range in a comfortable victory over Harrogate Town – and impressed with his ability on the ball, work-rate and desire.

It was quite an introduction to life at 1st Cloud Arena for Gomes, who grew up in Portuguese capital Lisbon before moving to the North East of England, where he was initially part of Newcastle Benfield’s set-up.

Adapting to a new country and way of life was difficult, but Gomes’ love of the beautiful game undoubtedly proved a welcome distraction.

He added: “That was a big step for me, coming to a new country and having to learn a new language and culture.

“I’m 18 now and feel really comfortable here.

“Football has played such a huge part in helping me settle in this country and learn the language.

“I feel much more comfortable on the pitch because of it because I can express myself and be myself.”

But just what was the most difficult aspect of North East life for Gomes to adapt to?

“For me, the toughest thing to get used to here was the accent,” Gomes said, laughing. “I couldn’t really understand it at first because people talk very fast, but I’m better with it now.

“The weather was also difficult to adapt to at the beginning because you never know whether it’s going to be hot or cold.”

Gomes was spotted while playing for Newcastle Benfield in a game in which he scored a headed goal – something he jokingly admits is a rarity in his game.

You are far more likely to see him taking on defenders, providing for team-mates and demonstrating his eye for goal with his feet, but that header and his all-round performance earned him an opportunity at Shields which he quickly grasped.

Having taken up the game at the age of 12, Gomes was a relatively late developer but his progression during his time in Shields’ Academy has been notable.

It earned him trial periods at multiple clubs but the teenager has opted to commit his future to the Mariners by signing a two-year deal.

The path from Academy to first-team has been a well-trodden one over recent years, and Gomes has plenty of inspiration among his new senior team-mates as he bids to make his mark.

He said: “My team-mates have been brilliant with me since I came here, especially Sam Hodgson and Will Jenkins.

“I look up to them a lot as they both made the step from the Academy to the first-team and are doing really well.

“I’m trying to emulate what they’ve done and they set the example in terms of the amount of work you have to put in.”

Gomes’ time in the Academy had plenty of highlights, with his role in the FA Youth Cup run of two seasons ago undoubtedly at the top of the list.

He added: “There have been lots of challenges to overcome over the last two years and I worked very hard during my time in the Academy, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it here so far.

“I feel like I’ve matured a lot and progressed well as a player, so I have to keep that going.

“The experience I had in the Youth Cup two seasons ago, and playing in front of the brilliant fans so many times, really helped my development and I want to play in front of that sort of atmosphere all the time now.”

First-team manager Graham Fenton is enthused to have secured Gomes’ services for the next two seasons and has described the teenager as an “exciting prospect”.

But what should those fans who have not yet seen him play expect? The final word goes to Gomes himself.

“I’m a player who likes to provide and score goals, and express myself on the pitch,” he said. “I like to go on one-v-ones and entertain the fans.

“Now I need to earn the opportunity to go out there every week and do that.

“As I said, the hard work has just begun.”

Exciting prospect Joao Gomes has signed his first senior contract with South Shields.

The 18-year-old, who has impressed since joining the club’s Academy in the summer of 2019, has put pen to paper on a two-year deal at 1st Cloud Arena.

Gomes was an integral part of the young Mariners’ remarkable run to the third round of the FA Youth Cup in the 2019-20 season, scoring four goals including a dramatic stoppage time winner against Morecambe and a spectacular long-range strike against Harrogate Town.

The attacking midfielder will now link-up with Shields’ first-team squad and has expressed his determination to catch the eye of the management.

He said: “I’m really happy and excited to have signed this contract.

“I feel like all of the hard work I’ve put in over the last two years has paid off to get to this point, but now I need to push on again.

“I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me at this club and it’s my responsibility now to make sure I’m ready to play in the first-team.”

Skilful Gomes grew up in Lisbon, Portugal, and has caught the eye since joining Shields with his creative and goalscoring ability.

First-team manager Graham Fenton was pleased to secure the services of a player who had attracted attention from a number of clubs higher up the pyramid.

He said: “We’re delighted that Joao has signed a two-year contract with the club.

“He has shown real promise over the last couple of years in the Academy and produced some exceptionally good performances, particularly in the FA Youth Cup run two seasons ago.

“Joao has had plenty of interest from clubs higher up the football pyramid and has been on several trials, so it is great that he has committed his future to us.

“He will come straight into the first-team squad and it is now up to him in his actions and performances to force his way into our minds in terms of team selection.

“He has some very talented footballers in front of him at the moment and it will take a lot of hard work and dedication to push his way past those players, but we have already seen that he has high quality and we’re looking forward to seeing him rise to the challenge.”

The club would like to thank Catalyst Professional Sports Management for their valued assistance with this deal.

An extended interview with Joao Gomes will be published on the website later this week.

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.