South Shields relishing 'brilliant' Sunderland clash as hybrid model begins to pay dividends
A sell-out crowd of more than 3,000 is set to pack into Mariners Park tonight as South Shields and Sunderland get their preparations for the new season underway.
Tickets for the much anticipated friendly were snapped up within days of going on sale as the two clubs get ready to go head-to-head in a senior fixture for the first time since Shields reformed in 1974.
The Mariners - who, like Sunderland, narrowly missed out on promotion through the play-offs last season - have strengthened their squad with three new arrivals so far this summer.
Adam Thurston, Millenic Alli and Robinson Wokoma are all in contention to make their bow for the club tonight.
Joint managers Graham Fenton and Lee Picton view the game as a great chance to see just where their side is at against opposition who ply their trade four levels higher up the football pyramid.
Fenton said: "This match promises to be an interesting spectacle, and we are really looking forward to pitting our wits against some fantastic footballers.
"We will be up against a very well-organised team and it will be great for our development to be tested in this way so early in pre-season.
"The match should give us lots of feedback on where we need to make improvements and also what we are doing well against very strong opposition.
"It's fantastic for us to be able to welcome one of our illustrious neighbours to Mariners Park and we hope it's a brilliant occasion for everyone watching."
Shields captain Jon Shaw is not expected to play a part tonight due to holiday commitments.
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He is one of a number of players now training four times a week with the Mariners after the club adopted a new hybrid model this summer.
Fenton believes the new system will give the Mariners the best possible chance of success next season.
He added: "This is a very exciting time for the club, with the new training regime which is giving us significantly more contact time with around 50% of the squad.
"The fact that so many of them are now training on a full-time basis gives us plenty of scope to improve in lots of different aspects.
"We should be able to make gains, particularly physically, by training four to five times a week, and we will also be able to further develop our analysis both as a team and individually to improve tactically.
"The purpose of all this is to give us the best chance of winning promotion at the end of the forthcoming season."
There will be no cash turnstiles in operation for tonight's game, which kicks off at 7.30pm. The turnstiles will open at 5.30pm.
Shields are back in action on Saturday when they take on Cleethorpes Town at Mariners Park for the Jak Fada Memorial Trophy.