With three games won, 12 goals scored and none conceded, it has been a successful week for SSFC Academy.
The young Mariners strengthened their position in two competitions during a three-day burst of fixtures as several players caught the eye.
Shields started the week with a 4-0 win over Gateshead in the National League Under-19 Alliance.
Aaron Steavens saved a first half penalty and Shields seized control when they took the lead on 35 minutes, Jack Wilkinson finishing well after a superb pass forward from George Lindo. Olly McCully struck twice in the second half and Oscar Taylor was also on the scoresheet as the points were secured.
The squad was split in two on Wednesday at Washington Hub as two fixtures were negotiated.
The young Mariners thrashed Blyth Spartans 5-0 in the Under-19 Alliance after being sent on their way with a six-minute first half hat-trick from Sam Hodgson. Two Tom Green goals in the final 15 minutes completed the scoring.
A further victory was claimed in the ECFA Premier Cup against Sunderland College, with Jamie Whitehead, Taylor and McCully netting in a 3-0 success to set up a tie with Wick College.
Head of Professional Development Jon Shaw has been delighted with the progress shown by the youngsters over recent weeks.
He said: “Lots of progress has been made, especially by the first years.
“When they first came in they were quite far behind the Under-18s and Under-19s because they hadn’t had the intense coaching.
“Over the last month we’ve really tried to step it up with the players in getting them to execute the first-team standards and formation.
“We’ve seen quite a lot of big improvements and it’s positive going into the second half of the season.
“In the Gateshead game against a mainly Under-19s team, we had eight Under-17s playing and all four goals were scored by Under-17s.
“It has been great to see.”
Hodgson’s hat-trick against Blyth will catch the eye, with the striker having been involved heavily at first-team level over recent weeks.
Shaw added: “It was great to see him score a hat-trick after being involved with the first-team.
“He has been a little bit frustrated with game-time floating between the academy and first-team recently.
“Wednesday’s performance and goals showed that the time with the first-team is obviously benefitting him and it has been good to hear those frustrations from him.
“All he wanted to do is play and that’s the type of player you want.”
South Shields sealed their place in the third round of the FA Youth Cup for the first time in the club’s history as they saw off Hartlepool United in another captivating tie at Mariners Park on Friday.
The young Mariners will travel to Fulham in round three after a display full of spirit and endeavour helped them defeat their North East neighbours 3-2.
Sam Hodgson gave them an 18th minute lead with a typically cool finish and Shields reacted well to conceding an equaliser later in the first half, with Hodgson rattling in a penalty to restore the advantage less than two minutes after the restart.
Prolific defender Ben Errington headed in a third with eight minutes left but there was still to be a nervy ending, which was brought about by a stunning strike from distance by Hartlepool’s Jack Leonard.
Shields were not to be denied, though, and saw out the remaining minutes to spark joyous celebrations as the Under-18s’ hugely impressive run in the competition continued.
In a frantic opening to the game, both sides had opportunities to open the scoring although it was Pools who went closest to doing so.
Mathew Wade produced a vital last-ditch tackle to prevent one goal before Aaron Willoughby curled a shot wide from the edge of the box and Shields goalkeeper Ethan Hodgson made an important interception to deny Jack Leonard what looked like a tap-in.
Shields grew into proceedings and fired their first warning as Will Morris delivered a cross from the right which was met by Joao Gomes and saved by Bradley Young in the Pools goal.
The young Mariners almost took the lead in the 13th minute when Morris shifted the ball onto his left foot just outside the area and fired an effort which took a deflection and was brilliantly tipped over by Young.
The home side did make the breakthrough five minutes later after a sweeping move which was concluded as Will Jenkins slipped the ball through to Hodgson, who took a touch before stroking a shot past Young and into the corner.
Hartlepool reacted well to going a goal behind and began to pressurise the Shields goal, with Dom Agnew forced into making an important clearance from a corner soon after.
Joe Grey then had a good chance to draw the visitors level as he connected with a floated cross from the right, but his shot from a promising position comfortably cleared the crossbar.
Shields could have extended their advantage on the half-hour as Stephen Black played a pass inside from the left to Jenkins on the edge of the box and he met it first time, only for his effort to take a deflection before kissing the outside of the post.
Pools countered from that corner and got back on level terms as Grey made up for his earlier miss with a terrific strike from 25 yards which went in via the post.
Less than a minute later, the young Mariners had a golden opportunity to retake the lead as Gomes tricked his way into a great position before being tripped in the box.
A penalty was awarded and up stepped Hodgson to thump it into the top corner for his second goal of the night.
Hartlepool had the better of the remainder of the half and looked certain to level when a loose Ethan Hodgson clearance presented a big chance to Grey, but the goalkeeper recovered superbly to deny the frontman and maintain his side’s advantage.
Hodgson made another important save seven minutes before half-time as he tipped a piledriver from Harrison Webster wide, and in stoppage time a header from Jay Gibson went onto the roof of the net.
It had been an action-packed 45 minutes and that theme continued after the break.
Hodgson saved brilliantly from Leonard within four minutes of the restart and at the other end, an equally impressive stop from Young denied Morris after he let fly from the right of the box. Josh Croft headed not far over from the resulting corner.
Hodgson produced another strong save from Leonard and then Grey to keep Shields’ noses in front, and their efforts were almost rewarded in the 72nd minute when Errington’s header from a Jenkins free-kick hit the top of the bar.
Pools thought they had levelled from a corner with 11 minutes left, but Hodgson this time produced a tremendous double save from point-blank range to deny them.
Shields got the breathing space they had been craving with eight minutes left as Errington forced in a corner from Jenkins but the tie was far from over.
Pools hit back three minutes from the end with a tremendous strike from distance on the right from Leonard which arrowed into the top corner.
They were unable to create an opportunity to equalise, though, as Shields saw the rest of the game out effectively.
The young Mariners can now look forward to an exciting trip to Fulham in the third round.
SOUTH SHIELDS: E Hodgson, Wade, Croft, Ames, Errington, Agnew, Morris, S Black (Dunn 62), S Hodgson, Jenkins (Taylor 87), Gomes (Ryland 81). Subs not used: L Black, Steavens, Spraggon, Wilkinson.
Goals: S Hodgson (18, 32 pen), Errington (82).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields are bidding to book a place in the third round of the FA Youth Cup for the first time on Friday when they take on Hartlepool United at Mariners Park.
The winners of the tie will face the tantalising prospect of a trip to Fulham in round three, with Shields looking to go one better than last season, when they were beaten at this stage by Lincoln City.
The young Mariners have enjoyed another tremendous run in the competition, seeing off Gateshead, Carlisle City, North Shields, Harrogate Town and Morecambe so far.
They are now expecting their most difficult test yet with so much at stake. This match was originally due to be held last Friday, only to be postponed because of a waterlogged pitch.
Jon Shaw and Wess Brown’s side have performed admirably so far this season and are now hoping for another bumper crowd at Mariners Park for the youngsters’ biggest match to date.
Academy and Recruitment Manager Brown said: “From our perspective it is great to come up against a local Academy and we know quite a few of their players, so it makes for an interesting game.
“We believe this will be a pretty similar match to the one we experienced in the first round against Morecambe.
“We will continue to play the South Shields way and the lads are on a high at the moment, with some of them getting opportunities to train and play with the first-team, and the performances across both leagues and cup competitions having been good.
“We’ve watched a bit of Hartlepool and expect them to be less direct than Morecambe were.
“We also expect them to bring a decent following, and hopefully we will get another huge backing ourselves, which gives the lads the extra push they need sometimes.
“The value of that support was proved in the last round against Morecambe when the crowd really drove the players on to get the last minute winner.
“It just shows what a community club we are becoming when we can attract that amount of supporters to a youth team game.
“There are a lot of clubs playing further up the pyramid that can’t attract crowds like this to youth games so we are hugely appreciative of the support we receive.”
Striker Sam Hodgson is expected to captain Shields in Friday’s match.
Hodgson has scored 12 goals in 10 appearances across two seasons in the FA Youth Cup, and is raring to go.
He said: “We’re expecting a difficult game.
“We know quite a bit about each other already and I’m sure it will be an entertaining match for everyone who comes along.
“This is a great bunch of lads to be a part of and if I’m chosen to captain the side again, it will be an honour.
“It’s one of the best changing rooms I’ve been in and the togetherness is great between both the first years and the second years.
“If there’s ever a time we can tell someone is nervous someone is always there to put their arm around them and calm them down.
“At the end of the day, it’s just another game of football and that’s the way we’ve got to approach it.
“Because of the way things have worked out we know that the winner of tonight’s game will travel to Fulham in the next round, but we can’t get carried away by that.
“This match will be difficult enough and if we can get through it, that’s the time we’ll be able to think about Fulham.”
Kick-off at Mariners Park is at 7pm and admission prices are £3 for adults and £1 for concessions.