A youthful South Shields were narrowly beaten in the Durham Challenge Cup final by Shildon on Friday.
Less than 24 hours before the Mariners were due to take on Warrington Town in the Evo-Stik Premier Division play-offs, Lee Picton and Graham Fenton were forced to make a number of changes to their team.
A side featuring many of the club’s brightest academy talents shone and dominated much of the final at the Stadium of Light, but their hard work was undone by a header from Shildon’s Billy Greulich-Smith early in the second half.
The Mariners had created numerous opportunities before Shildon went in front.
Dan Wright prodded a decent opportunity wide early on after good work by Ethan Biwer, while Olly Scott also saw a deflected effort saved.
Shields midfielder Arron Thompson was arguably the best player on the pitch and he almost broke the deadlock when his terrific strike from distance arrowed just wide.
Connor Bell had a big chance to put the Mariners ahead when Jordan Patterson played him in on goal, but his shot across goal was saved by Shaun Newbrook.
Shields continued to create opportunities and went close again as a Max Cowburn free-kick stung the hands of Newbrook.
Gary Brown and Cowburn also went close before half-time and the Mariners would have returned to the dressing room wondering how they were not leading.
Shildon improved at the start of the second half and opening the scoring in the 56th minute as Greulich-Smith rose highest to head in a cross from the right.
That initially stung the Mariners, but they gradually gained control again and almost equalised as Cowburn fired inches wide from a Scott cross.
Shields had two strong penalty appeals turned down and introduced Anthony Callaghan midway through the second half for his first appearance for the club since Boxing Day 2017.
One final chance fell the way of the superb Thompson as he met a low cross from the left by Scott, but his shot went just past the post.
Shields were left to reflect on what might have been but now switch their attentions to Saturday’s huge play-off tie against Warrington at Mariners Park.
A bumper crowd is expected and fans will be able to pay at the turnstiles.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Lister, Mouanda, Scott, Thompson, Patterson, Brown (c) (Lockey 58), Guy (Callaghan 67), Biwer, Bell (Harmison 72), Wright, Cowburn. Subs not used: Ross, Colquhoun.
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.
Supporters who have not yet purchased a ticket for Friday’s Durham Challenge Cup tie between South Shields and Shildon will be able to pay at the turnstiles.
More than 1,100 Shields supporters have snapped up tickets for the final, which will kick-off at 7.30pm at the Stadium of Light.
Shields supporters will be able to enter the stadium through turnstiles one to eight, with a number of those set to accept cash on the night.
Admission prices are £10 for adults and £5 for concessions and children.
Supporters coaches are asked to park in the Stadium of Light’s blue car park.
Free car parking is also available in the yellow car park.
The club thanks supporters for their backing and looks forward to seeing them all on the night.
The turnstiles will open at 6pm.
For a preview of the final and a full squad list, please click here.
Lee Picton feels Friday’s Durham Challenge Cup final at the Stadium of Light will provide a “magnificent opportunity” for some of South Shields’ brightest talents.
The Mariners are facing two games in two days, with the final against Shildon to be followed by the Evo-Stik Premier Division play-off final against Warrington Town less than 24 hours later.
Because of the short proximity between the two matches, Shields are expected to field a youthful side against Shildon, featuring many of the players who shone on the club’s run to the final.
The club has also received special dispensation to include left-back Anthony Callaghan and academy defender Joe Lockey in the squad for the first time this season, because of the unusual circumstances.
Joint manager Picton says the club’s youngsters will relish their chance to shine on such a big stage, and is confident they have what it takes to overcome the Northern League side.
He said: “This is a magnificent opportunity for a lot of our academy players, who have worked tirelessly all season.
“It’s a great reward for their dedication and commitment since they’ve been at the club.
“We genuinely believe in these players and although we have great respect for Shildon, we also go into the game with a really strong conviction that we can win it if the boys can deal with the occasion in the right way mentally.”
The club’s academy will also play at the home grounds of Walsall and Port Vale FC next Wednesday and Thursday respectively in national finals.
Picton is excited about their future.
He added: “This game will mark the first of three high-profile finals that the academy are involved in over the next seven days, and we should all be massively proud of the progress and success that the academy has enjoyed in the two short years since its inception.
“I’m sure everyone will agree that it bodes well for the long-term future of the club overall and we look forward to seeing the continued progress of some of the individuals that have really stood out at that level.
“Some of the academy players involved will hopefully draw on the experience they gained earlier in the season playing at Sincil Bank to hopefully overcome the mental challenges of trying to perform at such a big venue as the Stadium of Light.
“Next week they will also pick up valuable experience from playing at the Banks’s Stadium and Vale Park, which might help to prepare them for some of the stadiums our first-team will hopefully be playing at regularly in the long-term future.”
South Shields squad for the Durham Challenge Cup final: Lister, Brown, Callaghan, Lockey, Mouanda, Patterson, Biwer, Guy, Ross, Scott, Thompson, Wright, Bell, Colquhoun, Cowburn, Harmison.