South Shields ended Matlock Town’s 10-match unbeaten run in the Evo-Stik Premier Division in emphatic style as they honoured the memory of Jak Fada with a 5-0 win.
Just over a year on from the 10-year-old’s tragic death, the club labelled the match against Matlock as Jak Fada Day as children were allowed entry to the ground for free.
Those present watched a terrific display from Shields, who raced into a 3-0 first half lead thanks to an opener from Carl Finnigan and two from Gavin Cogdon.
The Mariners continued their dominance after half-time and wrapped up the three points with further goals from Jon Shaw and David Foley.
The result kept Shields seventh in the table, nine points off table-topping Nantwich Town with four games in hand.
They went into Saturday’s match expecting a difficult encounter against arguably the league’s most in-form side.
However, despite a strong opening five minutes from Matlock, Shields were in control throughout and thoroughly deserved their comfortable victory.
The Mariners first threatened a breakthrough in the ninth minute when a clearance from visiting goalkeeper Ross Durrant fell to the feet of Ursene Mouanda 30 yards out, and the midfielder was not far away from registering his first goal for the club as his effort looped just over.
They did not have to wait too much longer, though.
Captain Shaw clipped a ball over the top and Lee Mason ran onto it before rounding Durrant and seeing his shot from a tight angle cleared off the line by Adam Yates. Finnigan was determined to get to the loose ball first and did so before ramming it first time into the roof of the net.
It was a poignant moment as Finnigan opened the scoring in the 11th minute – Jak Fada would have been 11 now.
Shields played some outstanding football in the first half and doubled their lead after a terrific flowing move.
Robert Briggs played the ball inside from the right to Finnigan, who hit it first-time beyond the defence for Mason to run onto. Mason sent it across the face of goal and it struck defender Taron Hare before bouncing in off the knee of Cogdon.
Mason was at the heart of much of Shields’ best play and he was unfortunate not to add to the scoring when he got on the end of a Finnigan flick-on and fired over.
Goal number three did arrive before the half-hour mark as Blair Adams split the defence with a superb through ball and Cogdon raced onto it before beating Durrant with an audacious dink.
Matlock were perhaps fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men shortly afterwards when Durrant appeared to handle the ball outside the box, but the referee ruled it was inside the area and then penalised Cogdon, who had stolen the ball from the goalkeeper.
Shields hit the bar a minute before half-time when a Briggs corner was headed against the woodwork by a Matlock defender, and Cogdon almost completed a first half hat-trick as Durrant kept out his low drive.
There was no complacency in the second half from the Mariners, who extended their advantage in the 52nd minute.
Briggs curled in a terrific free-kick from the right and Shaw directed a brilliant header into the opposite corner to end any hopes Matlock had of staging a dramatic comeback.
Finnigan went close again when he fired over from a Briggs through ball, before Matlock hit the post when a ball in from the right was diverted towards goal.
Adams, Mason and Craig Baxter all went close, and Phil Turnbull almost netted his first goal for Shields as a ball across the area from Gary Brown was smashed into the side netting.
The fifth goal did arrive six minutes from the end when Briggs again split the defence with a fine through ball and Foley produced a sublime disguised finish on his 100th appearance for the club.
Foley was denied from point-blank range soon after but Shields had already done more than enough to secure the three points.
Next Saturday’s trip to Nantwich promises to be quite some occasion.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull, Mouanda (Brown 71), Briggs, Mason, Finnigan (Gillies 59), Cogdon (Foley 64). Subs not used: Lough, Harmison.
Goals: Finnigan (11), Cogdon (21, 27), Shaw (52), Foley (84).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
South Shields joint manager Lee Picton is expecting an emotional day as the Mariners get ready to pay tribute to one of their own on Saturday.
A minute’s silence will be held ahead of the game against Matlock Town at Mariners Park in memory of 10-year-old Jak Fada, who passed away just over a year ago.
The club has earmarked it as Jak Fada Day, with all children accompanied by an adult to be given free entry to the ground.
It also promises to be a difficult match for Shields against a Matlock side which has not been beaten since September.
Picton said: “It will be a poignant day for everyone connected to the club.
“Jak was well-known to so many people here and his passing affected us all.
“As Jak’s family will testify, the football club was a very special place for him, and that is a constant reminder to all of us as to the opportunity we have to potentially impact people of all ages in a massively positive way.
“I know everybody will want to pay their heartfelt respects during the minute’s applause ahead of the game, and as a club we hope we can do justice to the memory of Jak before, during and after the match.”
Shields and Matlock last met in September, with the Mariners running out comfortable 3-0 winners.
The Gladiators have improved significantly since then, though, under new manager Dave Frecklington.
They go into Saturday’s match in eighth, just one place behind Shields.
Picton is expecting a tough encounter.
He added: “Matlock will provide another massively stern test for us as a squad.
“Matlock have been the in-form side over the last couple of months, and will undoubtedly come to Mariners Park full of confidence and ready to go toe-to-toe with us.
“Because of the slip-ups we’ve had so far this season in the league, especially away from home, we’re obviously not in the position we would have liked to have been in after 16 games, so we must look to continue our mini winning run in the league with another three points tomorrow.”
Shields remain without injured duo Anthony Callaghan and Barrie Smith, while Nathan Lowe will serve a one-match suspension on Saturday.
The Mariners are hopeful Carl Finnigan and Blair Adams will shrug off knocks to play.
Kick-off is at 3pm and admission prices – which can be paid at the turnstiles – are £10 for adults and £8 for students and over-65s.
Under-16s can enter for free, with a maximum of two free children per one paying adult.
Jak Fada – the boy whose story touched the hearts of so many – will be honoured at South Shields’ home game against Matlock Town on Saturday, December 1.
On what will be known as Jak Fada Day, all accompanied children under the age of 16 will be able to watch the Evo-Stik Premier Division match free of charge.
A collection will also be held on the day for a Christmas toy appeal in memory of Jak, who tragically passed away last November at the age of just 10.
Jak’s mum Ashley Tomlin also died from the same heart condition as Jak less than a month later, leaving the family devastated.
Since their deaths, Jak’s family have concentrated their efforts on helping those less fortunate, and the toys bought from the appeal will be donated to worthy causes in South Tyneside.
Jak was a big South Shields supporter and regularly attended games and holiday coaching courses at Mariners Park.
The club felt it would be fitting to honour the popular youngster at the Matlock game, just over a year on from his death.
South Shields FC chairman Geoff Thompson said: “The tragic death of Jak and his mum Ashley deeply affected everyone in the South Tyneside community and continues to leave us lost for words.
“Jak was extremely popular with everyone who knew him and the reaction from the public after the tragedy showed just how much he meant to so many people.
“He was a big Shields fan, too, and we have been looking at ways to honour him and his mum in the lead-up to Christmas.
“We feel that Jak Fada Day will be a fitting way to do that as we again show solidarity with the family and remind them that we will always be here for them.
“We are sure that our supporters and the community in general will get behind this and ensure that December 1 is a great day when we can celebrate Jak.”
South Shields striker Carl Finnigan, who got to know Jak well when coaching him at holiday courses at Mariners Park, said: “Jak was a very special young lad who I won’t ever forget.
“Everyone at the club will always remember his great enthusiasm and excitement.
“He constantly had a smile on his face whenever you saw him, and he will always be a huge miss for us all.
“Jak Fada Day will be an emotional day for us all and it’s important we always remember his great spirit, which continues to inspire us.”
All children under the age of 16 with a paying adult will gain free entry to Mariners Park on December 1, with a maximum of two free children per one paying adult.