South Shields came from behind to defeat Consett as they began their FA Youth Cup campaign with a 4-1 victory on Thursday.
The young Mariners – who reached the third round of the competition last season – showed early signs of nerves as they fell behind to a Will Gallagher goal.
They soon found their stride, though, and after Charlie McLeod and Harvey Neary had fired them into a half-time lead, Oscar Taylor added two more goals after the break to earn Shields a trip to North Shields in the first qualifying round.
Jon Shaw and Wess Brown’s side was lacking in Youth Cup experience, with many of the players who performed so admirably in 2019-20 having now moved into the Under-19s age group.
They almost started this season’s run in the competition in some style as McLeod and Declan Bissett combined well before McLeod fizzed a shot wide from 20 yards.
Shields fell behind on the quarter-hour mark, though, as goalkeeper Callum Dobson made a sharp save but Gallagher was on hand to convert the rebound.
The young Mariners gained the upper hand after that and deservedly brought themselves back on level terms midway through the first half.
Dom Agnew – who made an impressive 90-minute appearance for the first-team in Tuesday’s win over York City – launched a ball over the top and McLeod beat the goalkeeper to it before stroking an effort home.
They went close to a quickfire double as McLeod motored down the right flank and delivered a low cross which Taylor flicked wide, with the striker denied again soon after as he was found by another right-wing delivery.
McLeod was at the heart of much of Shields’ most impressive work and he went close to doubling his tally for the night when he angled an effort just past the post after gliding across the pitch from right to left.
Shields did get the second goal they had been threatening just before half-time as another ball over the top caused confusion and this time Harvey Neary got their first to prod home from the inside-right of the area.
There were chances at both ends at the start of the second half, with McLeod’s cross sent just wide by Taylor for the Mariners before Dobson was forced to make a decent save to preserve his side’s lead.
The Mariners registered the game’s crucial fourth goal just after the hour mark as substitute Jack Wilkinson received the ball on the right and sent in a low cross which Taylor controlled well before turning and calmly picking out the bottom corner.
Shields were in full control by that stage and after Wilkinson and Taylor had gone close to making it 4-1, Taylor did just that as he slid an effort across the goalkeeper after being found in space in the box.
The only debate left open was whether Taylor could complete his hat-trick but after Wilkinson picked him out with a menacing delivery from the right, he fired over from close range.
It was a promising start in the Youth Cup for the young Mariners and they can now look forward to a rematch with neighbours North Shields, who they defeated on their route to the third round last season.
South Shields: Dobson, Neary, Hopper, Williamson, Stout, Agnew, McLeod (Wilkinson 55), Cooper, Taylor, Bissett (Witheat 76), Ryland (Lukeman 62). Subs not used: Walker, Baker, Gardiner.
Goals: McLeod (23), Neary (43), Taylor (61, 81).
South Shields’ Under-18s will begin their bid to emulate last season’s achievements in the FA Youth Cup when they travel to Consett on Thursday.
The young Mariners memorably reached the third round of the competition in 2019-20, beating the likes of Harrogate Town, Morecambe and Hartlepool United before falling at the hands of a richly talented Fulham side.
Jon Shaw and Wess Brown’s team will again start in the preliminary round in 2020-21 as they travel to Consett, whose first-team reached the final of the FA Vase at the weekend.
The match will take place at Belle View (DH8 7BF) and is set to kick-off at 7.30pm, with admission costing £2 for adults and £1 for concessions.
The winners will travel to North Shields – who the Mariners defeated on their run to round three last season – in the first qualifying round.
South Shields’ Academy players have enjoyed another largely positive week – with the highlight coming as they progressed in the ECFA League play-offs.
The young Mariners kicked off the week with a trip to Scarborough Athletic in the National League Under-19 Alliance on Monday.
There were plenty of positives to take from the game at Flamingo Land Stadium, but there was late disappointment for Shields as they fell to a 4-3 defeat.
Jon Shaw and Wess Brown took a team mainly made up of first-year Academy players to North Yorkshire and they had a slow start to the game, when it became evident it would be an open affair.
Scarborough struck the first goal of the afternoon but Shields battled back well, with strikes from Rob Ryland and Geoff Hearn putting them into a winning position.
The aim at the start of the second half for the Mariners was to continue where they left off at the end of the first 45 minutes, but they conceded an equaliser and a controversial penalty was then awarded against them when Lewis Black was adjudged to have handled in the box. Ethan Hodgson saved the spot-kick but was then ruled to have stepped off his line, resulting in a retake, when a different penalty taker converted to put Scarborough 3-2 in front.
Shields continued to dominate possession and equalised with five minutes remaining as Josh Elcoate notched a penalty before they pressed for a winner.
They looked set to find it when Jack Wilkinson was played in on goal but an apparent foul on the forward went unpunished and the Seadogs counter-attacked before scoring what proved to be the winner from a corner.
Head of Professional Development Jon Shaw said: “Although the result was disappointing, it wasn’t the be all and end all.
“There were a lot of real positives in the way the lads played, but they need to understand how to manage games and be a bit more ruthless when they have so much possession.
“The lads were unfortunate on the day.”
The Academy returned to action with two matches on Wednesday, which included a trip to Barnsley in the first play-off round of the ECFA League.
The young Mariners knew they were in for a difficult afternoon against a team which had won their league and they started slowly, whereas Barnsley looked sharp and dangerous, and caused Shields problems in the early stages.
Shields started to get to grips with the game and although they fell behind, they levelled things up before half-time when Will Jenkins brilliantly found Oscar Taylor and he made it 1-1.
The Mariners’ second half performance was much-improved and there were a number of impressive performances. Jamie Whitehead gave them the lead when he won and converted a penalty, and the victory was secured when Taylor notched his second in the closing stages to seal a 3-1 win.
In the National League Under-19 Youth Alliance, meanwhile, another youthful side impressively defeated Harrogate Town 5-2.
A difficult game was expected against a Harrogate side which won the reverse fixture 3-0.
First-team joint managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton took charge of the team for the match and they oversaw a hugely positive performance.
A hat-trick from Hearn was added to by goals from Wilkinson and Joao Gomes as the three points were secured.