Long-serving striker Stephen Ramsey notched South Shields’ first goal since returning to Mariners Park – but it was not enough to beat a Spennymoor Town XI on Tuesday.
Ramsey struck seven minutes before the end of the pre-season friendly, but Connor Dunlavey equalised soon after to earn Spenny a share of the spoils.
The Mariners made nine changes from the side which faced Darlington on Saturday, with Warren Byrne, Jonny Wightman and Kenny Ball among those to start.
They started brightly, with Barrie Smith – who along with Michael Turner, kept his place from the weekend’s game – flashing a shot not far wide five minutes in.
Spennymoor played some good football of their own, but almost fell behind in comical circumstances when David Gibson played the ball back to David Atkinson, who missed his kick and was relieved to see it trickle inches wide.
At the other end, Steven Hubery did well to hold onto a low shot from Chris Lawther, while Ross Morrow’s 25-yard free-kick smashed off the crossbar before bouncing over.
Both sides were creating decent scoring opportunities, and the most gilt-edged of those fell to Shields on 28 minutes. The lively Glenn Donaldson slid the ball past his man on the right before sending in a ball which fell perfectly for Warren Byrne, who took a touch to steady himself before firing over from eight yards.
The match was played in front of a crowd of around 200 at Mariners Park, and the Shields supporters were almost able to celebrate the club’s first goal since returning to the ground on 36 minutes.
Ryan Bolam swung in a superb corner from the left which was attacked by the head of Turner, but after his effort was blocked on the line, Byrne also saw his follow-up effort diverted to safety.
Turner – who was playing in the centre of defence – had earlier made a superb last-ditch intervention just as a Spennymoor forward was about to pull the trigger, and had another impressive game at Mariners Park.
The sides went in level at the break, and that was the cue for Jon King and his backroom staff to make a host of changes, with Chris Locke, Lee McMahon, Lee Maitland, Lee Scott, Ryan Beal, James Talbot and Joe Melvin the players brought on.
Maitland made an immediate impact after coming on, and almost gave his side the lead, but his prodded shot was held by Atkinson.
Shields had came out for the second half with real intent, and went close again eight minutes after the break when Locke fizzed in a cross which found Scott, whose effort was deflected wide.
Wightman had a shot from the edge of the box deflected inches past the post, before Phil Gray and Wayne Buchanan became the latest players to be introduced from the bench.
For Spennymoor, substitute Dunlavey was proving to be a real live-wire, as he fired a shot wide before having another one deflected for a corner.
A big chance fell to Talbot in the 57th minute as he was sent through on goal on the inside-right of the box, but Atkinson kept out his effort with his legs.
Shields were increasing the pressure, but just could not find the elusive goal.
Turner headed a decent opportunity wide from a corner, while Wightman fired over before he was replaced by Ramsey with 21 minutes remaining.
Buchanan was the next to go close for the Mariners, as his header from a Gray free-kick was held by Atkinson.
The goal finally arrived seven minutes from time when Ramsey – who scored a hat-trick against Spennymoor Reserves in a friendly a year ago – struck. The ball was played into him on the edge of the box, and he fired a low shot that took a deflection before rolling into the bottom corner.
The game could – and perhaps should – have been put to bed from the restart as Melvin broke free of the Spennymoor defence, but his shot was saved by Atkinson, while Scott’s follow-up was cleared by a despairing defender.
Dunlavey remained a real threat, and he earned the visitors a draw four minutes before the 90 were up. He received the ball on the right of the box before dancing his way past two challenges and drilling a low shot past Beal and into the bottom corner.
Scott headed a superb chance wide from a Gray corner near the end, while the final opportunity fell to Ramsey, who was denied by a superb Atkinson save after the ball was played into him on the inside-right of the box.
Shields will hope to pick up their first win of pre-season on Thursday, when they travel to Seaham Red Star. Kick-off is at 7.30pm.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Steven Hubery (Ryan Beal 46), Barrie Smith (Chris Locke 46), James Hepinstall (Phil Gray 56), Michael Turner, Aron Burn (Wayne Buchanan 56), Gary Crutwell (Lee Maitland 46), Jonny Wightman (Stephen Ramsey 69), Kenny Ball (Lee McMahon 46), Warren Byrne (Lee Scott 46), Glenn Donaldson (Joe Melvin 46), Ryan Bolam (James Talbot 46).
Goal: Ramsey (83).
South Shields were beaten 3-0 by Darlington at Mariners Park on Saturday – but for once, the result did not seem to really matter.
It was Shields’ first game back at the ground after a two-year exile, and a bumper crowd was in attendance to welcome the club home.
There was also a healthy contingent of Darlington supporters, while the presence of the Mariners’ junior teams at the game helped to create a family atmosphere.
On the pitch, Darlington – who operate three leagues higher than Shields – proved to have just too much in the end, but the hosts gave it their all and gave as good as they got for much of the pre-season friendly.
Before the match, the ground started swiftly filling up from 12pm, when the gates were opened, while the club’s junior teams played on the bottom pitch at Mariners Park.
At 2.20pm, the 10th South Shields Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Association performed on the field, before the teams came out at 3pm with ‘Football’s Coming Home’ playing over the PA system.
By then, it was time for the football, but it was Darlington who started the stronger.
They created two decent opportunities from crosses, with one header going over and another wide, before they knocked the wind out of Shields’ sails slightly by taking the lead on 14 minutes.
A free-kick from the left flank was floated into the box, and Adam Mitchell got enough on it to force it under goalkeeper Thomas Flynn, before the ball bounced up and into the roof of the net.
The goal sparked Shields into action, and they started to make some probes of their own as they searched for an equaliser.
They particularly looked threatening down the left flank, while captain Leepaul Scroggins was pulling the strings in midfield.
He curled a free-kick not far over on 18 minutes, while Josh Holland later sent a shot wide.
The Mariners were pushing to get back on level terms, and they so nearly did so on 32 minutes. Wayne Phillips – who was lively throughout – whipped in a corner which was headed goalwards by Ben Riding, but cleared off the line.
Phillips and Riding again combined before half-time, but this time the defender couldn’t get enough power on his header, and Darlington goalkeeper Peter Jameson clawed it away.
David Foley was the next to threaten the visitors as he tricked his way through on the left of the box, but his cut-back was intercepted.
Scroggins went off as a precaution four minutes before half-time after feeling a slight hamstring injury, and Darlington went close twice prior to the break.
First, Flynn did well to keep out an effort, before the resulting corner led to a free header which went over the bar.
Both sides would have been relatively pleased with the work-out in the first 45 minutes, and at half-time, Shields’ Under-10s side – who had walked out with the team before the game – got the chance to play on the main pitch.
After half-time, Shields made a host of changes as more players were given an opportunity to impress in front of such a large crowd.
Chances were harder to come by for both sides at the start of the second half, but Aris Lokonga Guerin and Barrie Smith linked up well on the right-hand side before the latter swung in a superb cross which Foley volleyed over.
That was to prove Shields’ best opportunity of the second period, and the game remained tight until Darlington scored the goal which virtually clinched the win 14 minutes before the end.
A through ball split the Shields defence, and although there were suspicions of offside against Mitchell, he continued and slotted the ball past substitute goalkeeper Steven Hubery.
Hubery was on hand to make an impressive save soon after, while at the other end, Jameson got himself into a tangle just outside the area and Paul Kane laid the ball off to Lee McMahon, but he could not place his shot through a sea of bodies.
In the 84th minute, Darlo added a third after some fine play down the right, and a cross into the box was bundled across the line by Nathan Cartman from in front of goal.
The atmosphere remained positive, though, and there was the sense that this was just the start of a new era for the Mariners.
Shields are next in action on Tuesday, with a Spennymoor Town XI the visitors to Mariners Park. Kick-off is at 7.30pm.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Flynn (Hubery 73), Smith, Turner (Curry 46), Riding, Galpin, Chapim (McMahon 46), Holland (Gray 46), Scroggins (c) (Ball 41) (Crutwell 80), Guerin (Ramsey 64), Foley (Talbot 77), Phillips (Kane 68).