Super Shields seal title hat-trick in fine style
The juggernaut shows no signs of stopping.
Three seasons, three league championships.
Brilliant South Shields added another title to their collection last night by securing top spot in the Evo-Stik North Division.
And as they have done so often in the last three years, they did it in style.
The win to seal the title - a 4-0 success at a sodden Radcliffe - typified the spirit, quality and work-rate which continues to lift this club to new heights.
Three years ago, they were homeless. Now, they can look ahead with excitement like never before. Who knows what the future holds for a club which continues to be gripped by positive momentum?
A campaign in the Evo-Stik Premier Division now awaits, and who would bet against them making another success of that?
Shields have made friends wherever they have been in the Evo-Stik North, with the enthusiasm and friendliness of their fans, and brilliance of their team, winning admirers across the division.
On the pitch, they have not had it all their own way.
Scarborough Athletic and Hyde United have pushed them all the way, and the Mariners have been tested wherever they have gone.
Now, though, they stand on the brink of another 100 points-plus season. History continues to be made.
Last night’s win rarely seemed in doubt.
The only question mark before the game was whether it would go ahead at all after heavy rain left the pitch at Stainton Park saturated.
The hard work of the ground staff ultimately reaped dividends as the officials gave the match the go-ahead and presented Shields with the opportunity to wrap up the title.
They started superbly, and had two huge opportunities to open the scoring in the first six minutes.
Carl Finnigan was played clean through on goal for the first of them, but clipped the ball wide, and when Michael Richardson was presented with a similar chance soon after, he was denied by a low save from home goalkeeper Connor Keane.
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Gavin Cogdon was the next to go close, hammering an effort against a defender and then the crossbar as the Mariners continued to pressurise their opponents.
A number of further half-chances also came and went before Cogdon opened the scoring midway through the first half.
Finnigan sent in a terrific cross from the right and Cogdon stooped low to head it home and get the party started.
Shields - already assured of promotion - were unable to add to their tally before half-time, and saw their chances boosted two minutes into the second half when Radcliffe’s Rick Smith was given a straight red card for a poor challenge on Cogdon.
Cogdon and Robert Briggs both went close to extending the Mariners’ advantage.
But it was Richardson who would add their second as he controlled a Craig Baxter ball forward before brilliantly picking out the bottom corner from 20 yards.
The game turned slightly when Shields’ Darren Lough was sent off for a second yellow card 20 minutes before the end, and the hosts enjoyed their best spell.
Louis Myers hit the post and Liam Connell was forced into a number of saves as he did well to deny Jordan Boves, Myers and James Cooper.
Shields motored on again in the closing stages, and substitute Graeme Armstrong made it three when, after seeing his initial shot saved, he slid the ball home.
Armstrong was to have the final say, too, as he was played in on the right of the box before slotting it past Keane in front of the Mariners’ buoyant travelling supporters.
Shields are back in action tomorrow, with a party atmosphere sure to greet them at Mariners Park for the visit of Kendal Town.
They will complete their season with another home game, against Colne on Saturday.
The celebrations are only just beginning.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Lough, Shaw (c), Morse, Storey, Pattison (Holmes 66), Briggs, Cogdon (Armstrong 55), Finnigan, Richardson. Subs not used: Ross, Juul, Sullivan.
Goals: Cogdon (23), Richardson (57), Armstrong (87, 90+1).