Graham Fenton: League table counts for little heading into South Shields’ home clash with Radcliffe

Graham Fenton insists the league table counts for little heading into South Shields’ home clash with Radcliffe on Saturday.

Fourth-placed Shields – who have games in hand on all those above them – could climb into the top two in the Northern Premier League with a victory over Radcliffe, who are 14th.

Shields beat Radcliffe 4-0 in the reverse fixture in September but the Lancashire-based side have been much-improved since then under new manager Bobby Grant.

Grant’s team were beaten 2-1 by promotion-chasing Bamber Bridge on Tuesday in a match Fenton attended, and he is in no doubt Radcliffe will provide a stern test for the Mariners.

Will McGowan celebrates goal with Darius Osei. Kev Wilson picture

He said: “Having watched Radcliffe on Tuesday, I’m well aware that their current placing of 14th is not a reflection of where they are at.

“They are a much-improved side from the last time we played them in September, and our players are fully aware that this is going to be a really tough examination of where we’re at.

“The way they play the game should mean that the match is a very good spectacle, as both teams like to keep the ball on the floor as much as possible and try to play through the thirds from the back.

“Since Bobby Grant took over as player-manager at Radcliffe, he has got them really well-organised and playing a good brand of football.

“We know we’re going to have to be at our best to come away with the three points.”

Shields are set to return to action after their trip to Mickleover last Saturday was postponed due to a number of positive COVID-19 cases and injuries within the Mariners’ squad.

All those previously infected are expected to return to contention against Radcliffe, with Conor Tee, Alex Kempster and Joao Gomes – who were all set to miss the Mickleover game with injuries – also expected to be available.

Fenton is hopeful JJ Hooper and Cedric Main will return after injuries, but Jordan Hunter (arm), Callum Ross (knee) and Myles Boney (ankle) will all miss out.

Shields have covered for the loss of goalkeeper Boney – who is expected to be back in training in 10 days – by signing Barrow goalkeeper Scott Moloney on a one-month loan.

The Mariners are heading into a hectic period, with three of their next four midweeks set to include a game.

Fenton said: “The schedule gives us the opportunity to pick up a lot of points in a short space of time, and we feel that we have a little bit of momentum going into it after the last couple of results.

“We have a lot of confidence that we can record more positive results in this period, both home and away.

“We know it isn’t going to be easy against the calibre of teams we’re coming up against, and as I’ve said on numerous occasions, this league provides you with no easy games.”

Kick-off at 1st Cloud Arena on Saturday is at 3pm, with the turnstiles set to open at 12.30pm. Admission prices are £10 for adults, £8 for students, over-65s and disabled supporters, and £3 for under-16s.

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