South Shields travel to Whitby Town on Monday for an eagerly-awaited post-Christmas fixture which is set to see the Mariners take to the field for just the second time since mid-November.
Shields have been hit by a host of postponements since their 3-1 win over Gainsborough Trinity on November 20th, and their only outing since then was the 2-1 defeat to Hyde United on December 11th.
Hundreds of supporters are expected to make the journey to North Yorkshire on Monday for a meeting of two of the Northern Premier League’s top five.
Graham Fenton’s fourth-placed Mariners go into the game a point and a place above their opponents, and five points behind leaders Buxton having played one match fewer.
The stakes are therefore high at the Turnbull Ground, with Whitby having won four and drawn one of their last five games in the league.
Shields manager Fenton said: “We’re really looking forward to playing a game of football, as there has been so little played over the past few weeks for different reasons.
“We have been massively impressed with the levels the boys have shown in training and are really looking forward to seeing that translate into a positive performance.
“Whitby are having an extremely strong season, which is no surprise as they have some talented players.
“Myself and Bri (Smith, joint assistant manager) went to watch them a few weeks ago against FC United, and were impressed with them as a team, and particularly their front three, so we have to be very good defensively and cause them lots of problems at the other end.”
Shields are without the suspended Darius Osei and injured Jordan Hunter, but are hopeful Dillon Morse will be available.
Fenton has paid tribute to the big travelling support set to follow the team to Whitby.
He added: “A huge thanks go to everyone who is travelling to the game to offer their support.
“I know everyone looks forward to their football over the festive period, but the commitment our fans continue to show to support the team is massively appreciated and we’ll be trying our best to repay that with our performance.”
Kick-off at the Turnbull Ground – which has a post code of YO21 3HZ – is at 3pm, and admission is £11 for adults, £7 for students and ver-65s, £3 for under-18s and free for under-16s with a paying adult. Tickets can be bought in advance by clicking here.
South Shields missed the chance to extend their lead at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division after losing a tight game at Whitby Town on Boxing Day.
On a day when most other results went their way, the Mariners were unable to capitalise at the Turnbull Stadium.
They went a goal behind in the fifth minute and when the Seasiders doubled their lead midway through the second half, Shields had something of a mountain to climb.
They showed good spirit to pull a goal back with five minutes left through a Dillon Morse header and they had some decent opportunities to claim a point, but were unable to beat Whitby goalkeeper Shane Bland for a second time.
The teams had to deal with a difficult pitch which made even the shortest of passes tough, and it was the hosts who adapted to the conditions quickest.
They almost took the lead in the second minute as Paul Blackett latched onto a loose ball in the box, but Ross Coombe did well to deny him.
Whitby did open the scoring soon after as Blackett raced onto a pass through the centre and slotted past Coombe.
Blackett proved to be a constant danger and he went close again when he turned on the edge of the box before drawing another save from Coombe.
It was a difficult period for the Mariners and they survived another scare as Jordan Hunter brilliantly headed off the line to deny Daniel Rowe.
Shields eventually found their feet and three good opportunities fell the way of Jason Gilchrist before half-time.
The first saw him drill an effort at Bland and the second saw him again denied by the goalkeeper, who was alert to catch his chipped shot.
Another opportunity came Gilchrist’s way as he was played in behind on the right of the box and drilled a ball across which ricocheted against two defenders before being clutched by Bland before it crossed the line.
At the other end, Kieran Charlton cleared off the line from Rowe to keep the deficit at one.
Shields had a strong start to the second half and almost levelled as Gilchrist fired a low effort which was brilliantly saved by the foot of Bland.
The hosts doubled their lead against the run of play, though, as a free-kick from the right by Jake Hackett fell the way of Alex White and he rifled the ball into the roof of the net.
In the closing stages, the Mariners put Whitby under pressure and after substitute Sam Hodgson was denied by Bland, they pulled a goal back as Morse nodded in a corner from Nathan Lowe.
Captain Jon Shaw had a golden chance to equalise less than a minute later as he was played in on the left of the area, but he fired wide.
Lowe, Gilchrist and Adam Thurston all had further efforts as the game neared its conclusion but Whitby saw it out to claim maximum points.
Shields will hope to return to winning ways when they take on Scarborough Athletic at Mariners Park on New Year’s Day.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Coombe, Hunter, Charlton (Thurston 52), Shaw (c), Morse, Briggs, Thompson, Baxter, Gilchrist, Jenkins (Lowe 52), Mason (Hodgson 70). Subs not used: Errington, Guy.
Goal: Morse (84).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields maintained their excellent form as they came from behind to beat Whitby Town 5-2 on an entertaining afternoon at Mariners Park.
Shields fell behind early on but hit back almost immediately thanks to a superb strike from David Foley.
They then hit the front after visiting defender Jassem Sukar was sent off for a last-man challenge and Robert Briggs converted the resulting penalty.
Whitby battled well with 10 men and, after Foley had doubled his account for the afternoon, they got back into it thanks to a goal by substitute Matty Tymon.
The Mariners ultimately proved to have too much for the Yorkshiremen, and late goals from Dillon Morse and Blair Adams ensured they stayed top of the league.
They could not have got off to a much worse start, though.
Whitby pressed the hosts in the early exchanges and were rewarded when striker Ashley Coffey stole the ball high up the pitch and rattled in a 20 yard effort via the post.
There were just three minutes on the clock and the boisterous away support must have believed their team had a chance of halting Shields’ 19-match winning run at home in the league.
However, the response from Shields was instant as they began to dominate possession and carve the visiting backline open.
They were almost level within a minute of falling behind as Craig Baxter advanced through the middle and forced former Mariners goalkeeper Jack Norton into a smart low save. Norton was to be in the thick of the action throughout the 90 minutes.
Shields threatened an equaliser on a number of occasions as they marched into decent attacking positions before they did draw level in the 10th minute.
Lee Mason played a tremendous ball out to Foley on the left channel and he went on the outside of his marker before rifling a left-foot effort into the roof of the net.
Josh Gillies almost put Shields ahead when Gary Brown slipped the ball through to him on the inside-right of the box, but a superb block denied him.
Whitby, despite being second-best, did possess a threat and fired Shields a double warning when a Coffey shot was deflected wide before Callum Patton produced some impressive footwork before seeing his effort deflected over.
The game then swung decisively in the home side’s favour when a superb ball from near the halfway line on the left by Gillies found Foley and he was pushed over by Sukar in the area. The Whitby left-back was given his marching orders and Shields had a golden opportunity to hit the front.
Briggs did not pass it up as he found the corner of the net, sending Norton the wrong way from the spot.
Norton kept the deficit at one as he beat away a low drive by Gillies before Shields were forced into a reshuffle when captain Jon Shaw was withdrawn with a groin injury.
Phil Turnbull replaced him and slotted into midfield, with Baxter shifted to right-back and Brown to the centre of defence.
The Mariners carried their one-goal lead into half-time and came out of the blocks sharply in the second half as they aimed to put the game to bed.
Mason dragged an effort wide from the edge of the box before Shields did go 3-1 ahead after a flowing move.
Turnbull split the Whitby defence open as he played in Adams on the left of the box and his teasing low delivery was rolled home by Foley from close range.
Norton did well to keep the visitors in it, saving from Adams, Briggs and Gillies before making an even more impressive stop, keeping out a Gillies shot from point-blank range.
Shields were peppering the Whitby goal but Norton refused to go down without a fight as he made further saves from Foley, Gillies and substitute Gavin Cogdon.
Chris Hardy’s side then responded, though, and Liam Connell had to be alert to tip a piledriver from Dale Hopson over the bar.
He was beaten from the resulting Hopson corner as substitute Tymon met it at the near post and sent the ball into the bottom corner.
Suddenly, it was game on again and Whitby perhaps should have levelled when another Hopson corner found Tymon in the six-yard area, but he fired over.
Shields gradually regained their dominance, but continued to be frustrated by Norton.
He closed down the angle well to keep out one Baxter shot, made a tremendous close-range save from Nathan Lowe and palmed a Cogdon effort wide just as the Shields striker appeared certain to make the points safe.
Eventually, the win was sealed for Shields when a Cogdon header came back off the bar and Briggs diverted the ball across the area to Morse, who hooked it past Norton for his eighth goal of the season.
There was to be a cruel final blow for Norton as Foley played in Adams on the inside-left of the box with a minute remaining and his shot squirmed under the body of the goalkeeper as the Mariners added a fifth.
Shields’ victory means they have now won their last 20 home matches in the league, a run which stretches back to last February.
They are back in action next Saturday when they travel to Mickleover Sports in the league.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Brown (Lough 76), Adams, Shaw (c) (Turnbull 42), Morse, Briggs, Baxter, Lowe, Mason (Cogdon 66), Gillies, Foley. Subs not used: Mouanda, Harmison.
Goals: Foley (10, 51), Briggs (pen 25), Morse (87), Adams (89).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.