South Shields boss' tribute to players as they look to seal promotion tonight
Graham Fenton has paid tribute to his South Shields players as they bid to secure a third successive promotion tonight.
Just a point against Glossop North End at Mariners Park would seal Shields’ spot in next season’s Evo-Stik Premier Division.
It has been a tough yet rewarding campaign for the Mariners, with added challenges following last year’s promotion from the Northern League.
Chief among those challenges has been the added travel brought with playing in a more national league, with Shields the only North East side plying their trade in the Evo-Stik North Division.
Joint manager Fenton has hailed his players for the commitment they have shown as they bid to get their promotion party started tonight.
He said: “The players put so much time and effort in for the football club in terms of travelling all around the north of England, leaving their jobs early when they need to, jumping off a bus and then hearing everyone presuming that they’re guaranteed three points.
“It’s not like that.
“Football is a tough game and you have to be on top of things physically and mentally all the time.
“Over the course of the season, you have dips physically and mentally, and at the moment our lads have shown that they’re probably physically and mentally tougher and stronger than anyone else in the league.”
Shields are top of the league heading into tonight’s match, five points clear of Scarborough Athletic and six ahead of Hyde United, having played a game less than both of those teams.
The top two will be promoted automatically at the end of the season, and an extra automatic promotion spot will be opened up for the third-placed team with the best points per game ratio at Shields’ level this season.
The Mariners need just one point to ensure that, even if they lose all of their other games and finish third, they would have the best points per game ratio of any third-placed finisher.
Fenton is hoping his team can complete the job in front of a bumper Mariners Park crowd tonight.
He added: “It’s always nice if you can gain promotion at home instead of away.
“It looks like we need a point to do it, but we’ll try to make it three to guarantee it.
“Hopefully we can put on a really good performance in front of the supporters again.
“I’d like to thank them for the backing they gave in the game against Colwyn Bay on Saturday, too, because they were magnificent.
“They supported us really well and seemed to really enjoy watching the football in the first half, and then they stayed with us in the second half when perhaps we weren’t on top of the game and just managing it to see it through.”
Shields defeated Colwyn Bay 4-1 on Saturday to move closer to a third promotion in a row.
Fenton felt the performance justified the decision to make a host of changes for the Integro Cup semi-final against Coalville Town two days earlier.
He said: “There was a little bit of a thing made about the team selection last Thursday, but I think it was justified on Saturday.
“We looked fresh from the start, and I think that was the beauty of it.
“Some people will think that these players are robots, and that they can turn out three times a week and put on really good performances on heavy pitches.
“I think Saturday really proved that when you get those few days’ extra rest, it is really beneficial.”
Barrie Smith is not expected to recover in time to play a part in tonight’s game, which will kick-off at 3pm at Mariners Park.
Shields remain without Anthony Callaghan, who will miss the rest of the season with a back injury, and Matty Pattison is a doubt.
Admission prices – to be paid at the turnstiles – are £8 for adults, £6 for students and over-65s, and £2 for under-16s.