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.
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.
Since the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, a series of meetings have taken place at management level to continue the evolution of the club’s long-term future.
Coming out of those meetings were a number of strategic decisions which have been made with the club’s sustainable growth and ambitions in mind.
We are now in a position to confirm our exciting restructure.
Following lengthy discussions over a number of months between the board and first-team management, the club will adopt a new hybrid model during the 2019-20 campaign.
This hybrid model will entail the first-team managers, Lee Picton and Graham Fenton, being able to take advantage of increased contact time with much of the first-team squad, with two additional training sessions to take place each week.
It is a significant commitment by the club and further underlines the faith of the board in the abilities of Picton and Fenton, who are preparing for their fourth season in charge of the first-team.
The long-term view is that the hybrid system will ultimately progress into a completely full-time model, although we anticipate this could take a number of years to come to fruition.
There will be an emphasis on promoting exciting young prospects and giving them a platform to showcase their talents, with a continued focus on developing players through the club’s own academy.
Two of last season’s academy squad will be regular members of the first-team squad next season, with details to be announced soon.
The club feels that this initiative will further enhance the opportunities of success for the first-team as it strives to progress higher up the league pyramid.
Picton and Fenton will also continue to be heavily involved in the coaching of the academy and will aim to add to the success of its first two seasons, which culminated in the academy’s first national title in May.
The academy’s leadership is to be strengthened by the addition of Jon Shaw, who will join as Head of Professional Development on July 1, alongside his continued role as first-team captain.
Over recent months, the club has developed a strong relationship with the Harton and Westoe Miners’ Welfare, which includes representation on their Board of Trustees, and an agreement has been reached to allow the first-team to use the facilities at the Harton and Westoe Miners’ Welfare Ground for training purposes.
A programme of additional activities will also be developed there by our SSFC Foundation, whilst maintaining all existing user groups at the facility.
The Foundation, headed by Steve Camm, will grow programmes which will allow the club to further diversify and broaden its role as a community club across a wider range of sports and health and well-being activities.
The club can also confirm the promotion of Wess Brown to Academy and Recruitment Manager.
Brown will head up the recruitment for the club from Futures Academy to first-team, and oversee the alignment of the club’s player development from age six upwards, which will include working alongside Shaw in developing players through the 16-19 academy programme.
Brian Smith will aid Brown with first-team recruitment alongside his role as assistant manager, and Catalyst Professional Sports Management will continue to assist the club with recruitment for the first-team and academy.
Brown will also continue with his coaching and leadership of the club’s Futures Academy alongside Jamie Williams, in conjunction with Mortimer Community College.
The Futures Academy is preparing to welcome its second intake of students in September following a hugely positive first school year.
A benefit of this continued growth will be a further commitment to the next generation of footballers in the area.
SSFC Foundation’s Thinkers and Movers sessions, led by its Programme Delivery Lead Nathan Kew, will continue and help feed youngsters into a new programme for under-6s.
Christopher Reay, who has been appointed as the club’s Foundation Phase Lead, will lead the new under-6s programme and manage a smooth transition for players into under-7s teams, whilst also providing a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme for Foundation Phase coaches at the club.
After confirming the club restructure, Chairman Geoff Thompson said: “This is a very exciting time for South Shields Football Club and we are confident that these changes will greatly assist with our long-term ambitions.
“Reaching the Football League as a community-based club is our goal, but a lot of effort and commitment will be required to turn that ambition into reality.
“The appointments and changes we have decided to make underline that we see this as a long-term project which will require a huge collaborative effort.
“Allowing Lee and Graham the opportunity to spend more time with the first-team players is key for us, and we are excited about the impact that could have as they bid to maximise the potential of our squad.
“The appointment of Jon was also a no-brainer for us.
“He has been a hugely positive influence, both on and off the pitch, since joining us three years ago, and after a terrific two years with Monkseaton High School’s football academy, we are delighted to add him to our 16-19 academy leadership team.
“We are all eagerly anticipating the 2019-20 season and are hopeful there are lots of exciting times to come.
“Our supporters have been with us every step of the way during the thrilling journey we have had so far, and we are going to need that to continue to make all of this a success.
“It’s critical people continue to get behind us, and we will reward that commitment with an enormous determination to maximise the potential of this club and get it as far as it can possibly go, however long that may take.
“Let’s do this together.”