By Philip Reay
South Shields suffered a setback at the Nissan Sports Ground on Saturday as they lost 3-1 to one of the pre-season promotion favourites, Washington.
The Mariners started the game brightly, and inside the first minute Chris Feasey outpaced the Washington defence on the left flank, but his cross was plucked off the head of Adam Sharp by goalkeeper Neal Atkinson.
A flowing Washington move involving former Mariner Chris Winn and James Fairley ended with Aaron Croft firing the ball into the Shields goal, but his celebrations were cut short by the offside flag.
Washington started to put the Shields defence under pressure, with Fairley causing problems on the left flank.
On 10 minutes, he fired a cross into the box for Mark Davison, and he volleyed the ball towards goal, only to be denied by a block from Aron Burn.
A series of corners followed, but the Shields defence held firm as first Sharp and then James Talbot were on hand to clear the danger.
A minute later, a long ball out of defence found Davison in space, but the Washington striker was unable to trouble the Mariners keeper Steven Hubery as he volleyed over the bar from the edge of the box.
From the restart, David Molloy played the ball into the path of Barrie Smith wide on the left. Smith turned past his marker before cutting inside and firing a shot towards goal that was tipped over the bar by Atkinson.
Shields continued to pressurise the Washington defence as Smith and Feasey combined to release Molloy, but the striker fired wide from the edge of the box.
The visitors were then hit on the counter as Fairley fired the home side into the lead.
Shields responded well to the setback and thought they had levelled the scores as Sharp guided the ball wide of Atkinson in the Washington goal, but like Croft earlier, he was also denied by the assistant referee’s offside flag.
Within minutes, the Mariners again went close. Following the award of a free-kick on the angle of the box, skipper Smith curled the ball round the defensive wall, but it also flew inches wide of the upright.
As the half approached the 35 minute mark, Shields again pressed forward. Feasey outpaced his marker before floating a cross into the box for Paul Kane, who out-jumped the defence, but with the keeper beaten, the ball grazed the outside of the post.
In the closing stages of the first half, Feasey again found Kane in space, but the striker was denied by a Washington defender’s block. The ball fell to Molloy on the edge of the box and he fired the ball towards goal, only to see his shot deflected.
Once again, Shields were hit on the counter as Winn squeezed the ball past Hubery to double the home side’s advantage going into the half-time break.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Smith again caused problems for the Washington defence. Following a mazy run, he fired a shot at goal that Atkinson was only able to parry before Richard Paxton hacked the ball forward.
From the clearance, Washington pressed forward and were awarded a free-kick on the edge of Shields box. Joseph Kendrick fired the ball into the defensive wall, and it flew over the bar for a corner.
The resulting corner was sent into the box by Anthony Callaghan towards Stephen Halliday, and Shields keeper Hubery had to be at his best to punch the ball clear.
On the hour, Clayton Davis broke clear of the Shields defence, but with only Hubery standing between him and a third Washington goal, a superb save denied him.
Washington maintained the pressure on the Mariners defence, and once again the reflexes of Hubery saved Shields as he tipped a point blank shot from Davison round the post.
As the second half approached the midpoint, Feasey fired a cross into the box from wide on the left flank towards Stephen Ramsey, and the Shields striker sent a glancing header into the roof of the net.
The visitors then pressurised the Washington defence looking to restore parity, but they held firm and Shields were hit by a late sucker punch.
A long clearance caused problems for the Shields defence, and Fairley capitalised to fire in his second and Washington’s third goal to secure the points.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Hubery, Locke, Feasey (Kempster), Burn, White (Halliday 46), Graham (Ramsey 67), Talbot, Smith (c), Sharp, Molloy, Kane. Subs not used: Pickering, Conroy.