Whitby Town came from behind to inflict a 3-2 defeat on South Shields in the Mariners’ final home match of the regular league season.

The result – coupled with Buxton’s 1-0 victory over Matlock Town – means Shields are set to compete in the play-offs, the semi-final of which will be held next Tuesday.

They had looked set to keep pace with the Bucks heading into the last set of fixtures when goals from Darius Osei and JJ Hooper earned them a 2-1 lead at half-time.

The Mariners were unable to capitalise on opportunities to extend that advantage, though, and Whitby struck twice late on through Marcus Giles and Jacob Hazel to take all three points.

Shields were impressive in the early stages and went close twice within the first 10 minutes, with Blair Adams and Osei both denied by Seasiders goalkeeper Shane Bland.

Hooper also had a good chance when he got on the end of a Dillon Morse flick-on, but his hooked effort cleared the crossbar.

The deserved breakthrough arrived on 16 minutes as Robert Briggs hit the ball downfield and Osei pounced on a loose clearance before swivelling in the area and firing into the bottom corner.

Shields were well on top and almost doubled their lead when Hooper played in Adams down the left of the box and he squared it to Osei, who was thwarted by Bland from close range.

Whitby equalised just after the midway point in the first half thanks to a fine pass by Harry Green and an excellent run and finish from Hazel, with a deflection leaving Myles Boney with no chance to react to the low strike.

The Mariners’ response was emphatic and they were back in front before the half-hour after Jordan Hunter picked out Hooper with an excellent cross and his header found the top corner.

The away side were now an established threat in the contest, though, and Green combined with Hazel again to unlock another golden chance, only for the league’s top goalscorer to turn his shot wide.

After the break, the opportunities continued to come. The first of them was a header by Whitby captain Daniel Rowe which Briggs headed to safety, although the ball appeared to be drifting just wide.

Hooper was unfortunate not to double his tally when Will McGowan played him in down the right of the box and he rifled a shot narrowly wide of the opposite post, and Shields went close again as Osei was played in but fired at Bland and a further strike by Hunter found the side netting.

The Mariners were made to pay for those missed chances when substitute Giles nipped in behind and angled a low effort which kissed the post on its way into the Shields net with 13 minutes remaining.

There was enough time left for Shields to respond and they did just that.

Substitute Cedric Main dug out a cross which Hooper headed onto the roof of the net and a Hunter cross was headed wide by Main as the hosts generated some momentum.

Ultimately it was the visitors who clinched the decisive fifth goal, though, as Hazel worked the ball onto his left foot and hit a low shot which was taken past Boney by a deflection.

Main and Hooper were both denied by blocks in the final whistle of stoppage time but Whitby saw things out to take the points.

Shields’ final league fixture is at Grantham Town on Saturday and, barring an extremely unlikely set of results, they are now set to compete in the play-offs.

South Shields: Boney, Hunter, Adams (c) (Kempster 82), Shaw, Morse, Bodenham, Rose, Briggs, Hooper, McGowan (Main 75), Osei (Tee 75). Subs not used: Wilding, Hodgson.

Goals: Osei (16), Hooper (29).

Attendance: 2,669.

Image: Kev Wilson.

South Shields face their final regular season home league fixture of the season on Monday when they welcome Whitby Town to 1st Cloud Arena (3pm kick-off).

The eagerly-awaited Easter Monday clash could prove pivotal, with Shields going into their penultimate game in the Pitching In Northern Premier League level on points with leaders Buxton, who hold the advantage on goal difference.

The Bucks are hosting Matlock Town at the same time Shields are in action, so the destination of the title – and one automatic promotion spot – could look a lot clearer come 5pm.

The Mariners go into the meeting with Whitby with confidence after JJ Hooper’s 89th minute winner at FC United of Manchester on Saturday.

They are expecting a difficult encounter, though, against a Seasiders team in need of the points themselves as they chase a play-off place.

The reverse fixture was held in December, with Hooper scoring twice for Shields in a 2-2 draw.

Manager’s view

Mariners manager Phillips said: “Saturday’s win means nothing unless we follow it up with another one on Monday.

“Whitby will make it difficult for us and are a good team with something to play for, so we’ve got to be on it.

“We recovered well on Sunday and are feeling well-prepared for the game.

“It’s a quick turnaround from Saturday and we’re fortunate to have a squad big enough to give us options to rotate, but you have to consider whether you want to change it too much.

“There are big decisions to make but I’m glad I’ve got them and the players are chomping at the bit to start, because it’s another huge match for us.”

Team news

Shields remain without midfielder Callum Ross, but manager Kevin Phillips hopes to have an otherwise full-strength squad to select from.

Matchday information

The turnstiles will open at 12.30pm and admission prices are £10 for adults, £8 for students, over-65s and disabled supporters, and £3 for under-16s.

Supporters are encouraged to stay behind after the game, with entertainment to be provided in the marquee by karaoke followed by a DJ.

Meanwhile, Happy Hour pricing will be in place in all open bars between 1pm and 2pm, and from 5.30pm to 6.30pm.

If you are unable to attend the game, follow live updates on the club’s Twitter channel, www.twitter.com/southshieldsfc.

JJ Hooper and Jacob Hazel shared four goals as South Shields were twice pegged back by Whitby Town in an entertaining encounter in North Yorkshire.

Hooper twice put the Mariners in front with smart finishes but on both occasions Hazel hit back as the clash between two of the Pitching In Northern Premier League’s top five ended all-square.

In their final outing of 2021, Shields could not have started much brighter.

They took the lead after just 15 seconds when Hooper flicked the ball to Cedric Main down the right and he burst forward before pulling it back to Hooper, who had continued running and picked out the top corner from 12 yards.

Main was in menacing mood and provided a constant threat on the right channel. His cross almost set up a second goal for Hooper on four minutes, but Whitby goalkeeper Shane Bland saved his header from point-blank range before the flag went up for offside.

It was an encouraging start from the Mariners as they looked to respond to their 2-1 defeat to Hyde United a fortnight earlier, but Whitby came into the game in impressive form and showed a glimpse of why when Bradley Fewster shifted the ball onto his left foot and fired not far wide.

The Seasiders equalised in their next attack thanks to some fine team play as Jassem Sukar’s cross from the left was chested by Fewster into the path of Hazel, who rolled the ball into the bottom corner with a first-time finish.

Hazel had 13 league goals to his name heading into the match and was a thorn in Shields’ side. His free-kick almost gave the hosts the lead but whistled narrowly wide of Myles Boney’s net.

After Shields’ blistering start, the game had developed into a more even contest as both teams created opportunities.

Main continued to threaten the Whitby back-line and outmuscled Sukar before finding Will McGowan, who turned and tried to play it on to Conor Tee, but an excellent interception by Soni Fergus denied him just as he was about to pull the trigger.

Nathan Lowe and Hooper both had efforts from the edge of the box as the Mariners probed for a goal which would put them back in front, but the former dragged a shot wide and Hooper’s strike was comfortably gathered by Bland.

At the other end, Hazel was off target from 20 yards and Fewster tried to catch Boney out with a powerful half volley from the inside-left channel, but the Shields goalkeeper was equal to his effort. Fewster also sent a long-range shot narrowly wide just before half-time.

Early in the second half, headers from Dillon Morse and Callum Ross were saved by Bland as the Mariners took control, and there was also a left-foot strike from Hooper which drifted narrowly past the post.

Whitby kept Shields at bay but their resistance was broken 16 minutes from the end.

Ross won possession 10 yards inside his own half and his ball forward was superbly dinked beyond the home defence by substitute Robert Briggs. Hooper was quickest to react as he attacked the space between the defence and Bland, took it round the Seasiders goalkeeper and finished clinically into an empty net.

The visitors could not hold out for victory, though, with Hazel equalising for a second time with nine minutes remaining.

Patient build-up play was rewarded when Fewster dummied and allowed the ball to run through to Hazel, who fired in from 15 yards via the post to hand Whitby a share of the spoils.

The result kept Shields fourth in the Pitching In Northern Premier League ahead of their meeting with Scarborough Athletic at 1st Cloud Arena on New Year’s Day.

South Shields: Boney, Rose, Adams (c), Ross, Morse, Bodenham, Tee (Kempster 79), Lowe, Hooper, McGowan (Briggs 68), Main. Subs not used: Shaw, Jenkins, Hodgson.

Goals: Hooper (1, 74).

Attendance: 1,112.

Image: Kev Wilson.