South Shields face stern test of title credentials when they travel to promotion rivals Buxton
South Shields face another stern test of their title credentials when they travel to promotion rivals Buxton on Saturday.
The pair have been billed as promotion contenders since pre-season and go into this clash separated by just four points, with second-placed Shields holding the advantage over Buxton in third.
Buxton have suffered indifferent form over recent weeks, but ended a run of six league games without a win last Saturday when former Shields striker Jason Gilchrist was among the scorers in a 2-1 victory at Hyde United.
Their win came while the Mariners were left kicking their heels after their table-topping clash with leaders Matlock Town was postponed.
Kevin Phillips’ side are therefore eager to return to action against the Bucks, who triumphed 1-0 in the reverse fixture in October.
Phillips said: “We were all hugely frustrated that we couldn’t play last weekend, but having had that enforced rest, we’ve been able to get some more valuable work in on the training pitch.
“Especially with me being new into the job, having that bit of extra time to work with the players and increase their understanding of what I’m looking for and the style I’d like has been beneficial.
“We’ve had a really good week in training and the players have been excellent as usual.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game against a potential promotion rival away from home.
“Buxton are a good side with some excellent players and they’re going to present us with a huge challenge, but it’s one we’re looking forward to.”
Phillips, his staff and players are well aware of the threats Buxton possess.
Among them is Gilchrist, who had a goal-laden two-year spell with Shields before departing for York City last summer.
He is a recent arrival at the Silverlands, where he is joined by team-mates including ex-Newcastle United midfielder Ryan Taylor and former Sheffield United, Derby County and Nottingham Forest forward Jamie Ward.
Ward’s 14 league goals have been crucial in sustaining Buxton’s promotion bid and he is a player Phillips knows well, having been team-mates while Ward, now 35, was attempting to break through at Aston Villa.
Phillips added: “They’ve got good quality players in their squad with the likes of Jamie Ward, who I know well and will be a major threat.
“I was at Aston Villa with him when he was a young kid and have seen him develop into a really good player over the years.
“He’s now also very experienced and is still a big threat, so we need to keep a careful eye on him.”
Shields go into the game without the injured Callum Ross, and have a doubt over the availability of striker JJ Hooper.
A major boost for the Mariners is the return of goalkeeper Myles Boney, though.
Kick-off at the Silverlands is at 3pm.