Nathan Lowe’s thunderbolt inside the first two minutes set South Shields on their way to a season-opening win over Mickleover on an uplifting afternoon at 1st Cloud Arena.
Lowe’s strike into the top corner was an emphatic way for Shields to return to competitive action before second half goals from Jon Shaw and Jason Gilchrist completed what proved to be a convincing victory.
Mickleover played their part in an at times feisty game but it was the Mariners who were smiling at the final whistle as they climbed to the top of an admittedly primitive Pitching In Northern Premier League table.
It may have been Shields’ first competitive game in more than six months but there was little evidence of rustiness in the opening stages.
Darius Osei fed Gilchrist down the right and when he looked inside for options, Lowe was screaming for the ball 25 yards from goal. Gilchrist duly played it into his path and his good friend leathered it into the top corner to kick-off the season in style.
The home side’s bright start continued and it was Gilchrist who remained chief creator, with his cross from the left sent narrowly wide by a looping header from Osei.
Osei went closer still to doubling Shields’ advantage before quarter of an hour had even been played as he drifted in from the right before belting a left-foot shot narrowly over the crossbar.
It took Mickleover some time to settle into the game but when they did, they demonstrated their ability to provide a real threat to the Shields back-line.
They almost equalised on the half-hour mark when Declan Bacon’s low ball into the box was half-cleared as far as Andrew Wright, whose well-struck effort hit the base of the post.
If that was a warning for the Mariners, they were fired another one soon after as Wright fizzed in a dangerous cross from the right but no team-mate was on hand to convert.
Mickleover’s strong end to the first half saw them continue to threaten a leveller and they created another decent chance when Alex Morris whipped in a cross which found the head of the experienced Stuart Beavon, but he was unable to trouble Myles Boney.
Shields came out strongly at the start of the second half and Josh Gillies forced visiting goalkeeper Callum Hawkins into action early on as his low strike from distance was beaten away.
Lowe almost doubled his tally for the afternoon in spectacular fashion with a powerful free-kick from the left of the box which just cleared the crossbar, although many in attendance had mistakenly thought the ball had looped in.
The match entered a scrappy period as both sides picked up a number of yellow cards, but Shields broke the resistance of the away side on 68 minutes as substitute Robert Briggs’ superb free-kick delivery from the left was met at the back post by Shaw, who guided it past Hawkins with a brilliant header.
The Mariners were well on their way to an opening-day victory but had to remain alert at the back and were fired another warning of Mickleover’s threat when Anam Verma played in substitute Jordan Walshaw and his powerful strike forced Boney into an impressive one-handed save.
The visitors were left scratching their heads as to how they had not pulled a goal back two minutes before the end when Ben Garing headed against the post before Dillon Morse denied Beavon with an acrobatic goal-line clearance and Boney brilliantly blocked from Patrick Webb as the clean sheet was preserved.
The final word ultimately belonged to Shields, who added a third goal in stoppage time.
Jordan Hunter beat Alex Morris on the right and he found Gilchrist, who tucked in his first goal of the season from close range after some typically impressive movement from the striker had left him in space.
It was a pleasing return to competitive football for Shields, who travel to Warrington Town on Tuesday as they get their Emirates FA Cup campaign underway.
South Shields: Boney, Hunter, Adams (Brown 75), Shaw (c), Morse, Ross, Gillies (Briggs 63), Baxter, Gilchrist, Lowe, Osei (Jenkins 77). Subs not used: Turnbull, Verstraaten.
Goals: Lowe (2), Shaw (68), Gilchrist (90+3).
IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
Supporters will be able to watch Saturday’s season-opener between South Shields and Mickleover via a live stream.
Only season ticket holders and those with a valid match ticket will be permitted to enter 1st Cloud Arena, but that does not mean others will be able to see the action.
The pre-match coverage, followed by live footage of the game, will be available from 2.30pm on Saturday by clicking here. There is a charge of £5 to watch the stream.
We hope you enjoy the coverage and thank you for your continued support.
South Shields FC has been in regular contact with the relevant authorities since new local restrictions were announced in South Tyneside and the surrounding areas on Thursday.
Supporters have questioned the potential impact of those restrictions on Saturday’s season opener against Mickleover at 1st Cloud Arena and the club can confirm that, following guidance from the Pitching In Northern Premier League, the game is due to go ahead as planned.
The capacity will be capped at 600, meaning only season ticket holders and those with a valid match ticket will be able to attend. Please do not attempt to enter the ground without a valid ticket, and please note that 2019-20 season tickets are no longer permitted, with all those who renewed having been allocated a new ticket.
It is hugely important that all those who attend the match strictly follow the club’s Code of Conduct, which can be read by clicking here.
Following those guidelines will help to protect the future of the club and its ability to continue to host matches, so it is in the best interests of everyone to help with this and do whatever they can to ensure Saturday runs safely and smoothly.
Supporters should attend the game in their household bubbles of no more than six people, and adhere to the markings which are set out around 1st Cloud Arena to ensure social distancing. Please do not stand in a crossed area around the side of the pitch, while in the non-seated stands, markers are in place to again help with social distancing. The main seated stand will be restricted to season ticket holders with a seat only.
The club also reiterates that everyone who attends the fixture should wear a mask wherever possible. This is especially important for those planning to shout and sing, but all are strongly encouraged to wear a mask.
The Government guidelines announced on Thursday also mean that the club will have a policy of table service only for those planning to purchase drinks. All those who plan to drink must be seated at a table, with no standing with a drink allowed. Tables will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, and the turnstiles will open at 12.30pm.
The new restrictions also mean that the club will be unable to sell any hot or cold drinks, or food, from the outdoor kiosks.
The club has worked tirelessly to devise protocols which best ensure the safety of all who attend matches at 1st Cloud Arena. Please respect and understand those rules, as if we all adhere to them and demonstrate that we can attend matches safely and enjoyably, we will best ensure our safety, and protect the long-term interests of the club.
Thank you for your continued support, patience and understanding.