Wouter Verstraaten has told of his delight after putting pen to paper on a new contract at South Shields.
The Dutchman made 14 appearances for the Mariners last season after joining from Consett in January.
The PSV Eindhoven Academy graduate impressed in a number of roles and attracted the attention of a number of clubs higher up the football pyramid, but has opted to commit his future to Shields after extensive discussions.
Verstraaten said: “I am very happy to have signed this deal, as it took a while before we finally got it done.
“I am very pleased that South Shields have shown their confidence in me during these unprecedented times.
“Ever since I joined the team in January, I have felt the professionalism and will to win this league.
“That this didn’t happen last season was obviously a very disappointing moment for the whole club, but I feel that we are very motivated to make things right next season.
“That is one of the many reasons I have signed with South Shields.”
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that the Shields squad has not been together since the memorable 5-3 victory over FC United of Manchester on March 14th.
Motivation among the players remains high, though, and Verstraaten is eagerly awaiting the day football returns and he can play in front of the Mariners Park faithful again.
He added: “I feel that it is the right place for me to grow as a player and improve in areas that will help me perform to a higher level.
“It is a pleasure to play in front of such a big crowd every week. There are not many places where the stage is set every weekend like it is at South Shields.
“I’m currently back in the Netherlands staying fit and spending some time with my family and I’m in regular contact with the management, but we just have to wait to see when the Government allows us to get back together.”
The club’s full retained list following the completion of the 2019-20 season will be announced on Tuesday morning.
South Shields take on Morpeth Town for the first time this season as the two sides go head-to-head in an eagerly anticipated clash on Tuesday.
Both clubs have risen to the BetVictor Northern Premier Division from the Northern League over recent years and come into this game highly motivated to strengthen their promotion ambitions.
Shields are a point clear at the top following Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Stalybridge Celtic while Morpeth are 14th, 10 points adrift of the play-off places but with a number of games in hand on all those above them.
A large following of Mariners supporters is expected at Craik Park on the club’s first visit to Morpeth since the 2016-17 season, when Shields triumphed 4-0 in Northumberland in both the Northern League and FA Vase.
A stern test is expected against a Morpeth side which returned to winning ways on Saturday with a 3-1 victory against Radcliffe.
Shields are looking to improve on their performance in Saturday’s draw at Stalybridge and joint manager Lee Picton is confident they will turn in an impressive display.
He said: “I think everyone knows what kind of game it will be and we’re ready for it.
“We’ll give a good account of ourselves, I know that.
“It could potentially be a springboard for us to get right back up to where we need to be between now and the end of the season.”
Shields could come up against a number of familiar faces on Tuesday, with Carl Finnigan and Wayne Phillips – both members of their 2016-17 title-winning squad – now among Morpeth’s ranks, along with former Mariners defender Michael Turner.
Wouter Verstraaten is one of the Shields players who haven’t yet tasted this fixture, but he is excited about the prospect of playing a part.
The Dutchman made his first league start for the club in Saturday’s draw and marked it with a goal from midfield.
He said: “Local derbies always bring something extra so I’ve really been looking forward to this one.
“The fans are amazing at every game and I can only imagine that they’re going to be absolutely amazing in this match.
“We feel like we’re in a good position heading into this game after Saturday.
“It didn’t feel like a good result straight afterwards but when we looked at some of the other results a point wasn’t the worst outcome.
“We’re still top of the league and that’s where we want to be at the end of the season.”
Shields will be without the injured Luke Daly and Ross Coombe on Tuesday and there are doubts over the availability of Jon Shaw, Blair Adams and Gary Brown.
Kick-off at Craik Park – which has a postcode of NE61 2YX – is at 7.45pm and admission prices are £8 for adults, £6 for concessions and £2 for children.
Two Darius Osei goals denied South Shields all three points as Stalybridge Celtic twice fought back from a goal down to earn a share of the spoils at Bower Fold.
The Mariners took an early lead when Wouter Verstraaten prodded home from a corner but were pegged back when Osei converted a penalty midway through the first half.
Stalybridge produced an impressive performance to seriously threaten the league leaders, but Shields went back in front just after the hour mark with a Robert Briggs penalty.
Most in attendance would agree that a draw was a fair result, though, and a smart turn and finish from Osei with six minutes remaining earned Stalybridge a point.
The result moved the Mariners a point clear at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division ahead of Tuesday’s derby trip to Morpeth Town.
Shields handed a debut to Ryan Whitley after he joined on loan from York City on the eve of the game and he was called into action as early as the fourth minute when Adam O’Reilly advanced into a dangerous position on the inside-left of the box and the goalkeeper was alert to close the angle and make the save.
The first goal of the game arrived from a Nathan Lowe corner for the Mariners on 12 minutes as he delivered a teasing ball from the left which bounced in the area before being rifled low into the net by Verstraaten as he registered his first goal for the club.
Verstraaten, making his first league start, had an opportunity for another soon after as Callum Ross found him on the right of the box, but this time his effort lacked the power needed to seriously test Alex Fojticek in the Stalybridge goal.
The home side showed their capabilities going forward with a two-minute burst of action around the 20-minute mark and their pressure paid off when they were awarded a penalty for a foul by Jon Shaw.
Osei tucked his spot-kick into the bottom corner to level the scores and he almost added a tremendous second in the 30th minute as he robbed Shields of possession in the middle before driving forward and crashing a shot against the post from 20 yards.
The same player had another chance for a second before half-time when he was picked out on the right of the area but his effort across goal drifted past the post.
The Mariners lost captain Shaw to a groin injury five minutes before the break and that forced a reshuffle, with Briggs introduced from the bench and Verstraaten moved into a defensive role.
The visitors showed signs of improvement at the start of the second half and had an early opportunity as Craig Baxter’s cross found the head of Sefton Gonzales but the ball went wide.
On a number of occasions, Stalybridge tried to catch Shields out with blistering efforts from distance but they all cleared the crossbar, although attempts by Scott Metcalfe and Osei did not miss the target by much.
It was the Mariners who made the vital next move in the game though as Mason received the ball in the area and was bundled to the floor, resulting in the referee awarding a second penalty of the match.
Briggs rattled his spot-kick down the middle to put his side back in front.
Jason Gilchrist, Mason and Gonzales all went close in a quick flurry but Stalybridge cranked up the pressure at the other end and got their reward in the 84th minute when Osei turned smartly and finished equally well for his second goal of the afternoon.
The best chance for a late winner fell to Gonzales as he nicked the ball high up the pitch on the right but Fojticek closed the angle and made a smothering save.
The result kept Shields at the top of the table and they will hope to return to winning ways on the eagerly awaited trip to Morpeth.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Whitley, Hunter, Baxter, Shaw (c) (Briggs 40), Morse, Turnbull (Mason 46), Verstraaten, Ross, Gilchrist (Gillies 83), Lowe, Gonzales. Subs not used: Boney, Thompson.
Goals: Verstraaten (12), Briggs (pen 61).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.