South Shields have the task of ending Matlock Town’s unbeaten start to the league season when they travel to Derbyshire on Saturday.
Matlock have started the campaign in superb form, having picked up four wins and two draws in their first six games under new manager Steve Kittrick.
Shields have had a good start to the league season too, with 10 points having been accrued from their first five matches, so an intriguing encounter lies in wait at the picturesque Proctors Cars Stadium.
The Mariners suffered disappointment in midweek after losing their Emirates FA Cup first qualifying round replay at Colne.
They remain in good shape in the league, though, and have games in hand on all those teams around them heading into Saturday’s fixture.
Shields joint manager Lee Picton knows his side have a difficult assignment as they look to end Matlock’s unbeaten start.
But he says it is a challenge the Mariners should relish.
He said: “We have to move on to Saturday now.
“In some ways I hope it’s the perfect next game for us, because it’s a really tough test against a Matlock side in good form.
“We’ll see what the personality of our group is like and this match will be a pretty good indication as to what we may or may not need moving forwards.
“There have been a lot of conversations since Tuesday and the players have a really simple choice.
“They can feel sorry for themselves or they can react to it in the way we’d like them to.
“Myself and Graham (Fenton) are very self-reflective and will always take our share of the responsibility, but the players really need to take their share of it as well to turn this situation around.
“It’s not even nearly a crisis or anything like that, but it’s very unusual for us not to score in two consecutive games as we did in the two ties against Colne.
“We need to put that right very quickly.”
Shields midfielder Robert Briggs is doubtful for the match after missing out on Tuesday’s game with a hip injury picked up last weekend. The Mariners also remain without midfielder Luke Daly, who is out with a longer-term knee injury.
The biggest positive this season for the Mariners has been their defensive record, with just three goals conceded across seven competitive matches.
It is their goalscoring record that they now must improve.
Picton added: “Quite clearly the defensive side has not been an issue for us.
“We’ve only conceded three goals this season, so that’s not the problem.
“Some quality individuals need to start taking responsibility for producing quality moments in the games, which has unfortunately been sadly lacking over the last two matches.”
Kick-off at Proctors Cars Stadium – which has a post code of DE4 3AR – is at 3pm.
The Shorts Lounge at the ground, which is Matlock’s social club, will be open early to allow supporters the opportunity to watch the 12.30pm Premier League kick-off between Liverpool and Newcastle United.
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.