South Shields braced for one of the biggest games in recent history when they host Buxton in play-off clash
South Shields are set for one of the biggest games in their recent history Tuesday night when they host Buxton in the semi-final of the play-offs.
The Mariners were forced to settle for a play-off place in the Evo-Stik Premier Division despite beating Gainsborough Trinity with a second half Carl Finnigan goal on Saturday.
The win, though, did secure a second-placed finish for Shields, ensuring they will be at home in all three of their potential play-off games.
If they defeat Buxton tomorrow, they will host Warrington Town or Nantwich Town on Saturday before taking on the winners of the Evo-Stik South Premier Division Central play-offs a week later.
The Mariners went into Saturday's game at Gainsborough knowing they would win the league if they won and relegation-threatened Marine triumphed at Farsley Celtic.
Shields kept up their end of the bargain but Farsley ultimately proved too strong for Marine, winning 2-0 to seal the title.
Lee Picton and Graham Fenton's side knew their final assignment of the regular league season would be a tough one against a Gainsborough side which needed to win to reach the play-offs.
The visitors started in confident mood, though, and almost took the lead early on when Robert Briggs fizzed a 25 yard effort just past the upright.
Blair Adams was also off target with a shot from distance as the Mariners attempted to build some momentum.
The first half saw lots of stoppages and although Shields looked the more dangerous team, Gainsborough did pose the odd threat of their own.
A free-kick from the right was cleared as far as Nathan Stanfield on the edge of the box and he went for the spectacular as he flicked the ball up and fired towards goal on the turn, but it went onto the roof of the net.
Another presentable opportunity fell to Benjamin Hughes, who received the ball in space 20 yards out but skewed his effort wide.
Briggs was off target at the other end as the teams went in at half-time goalless and with all to play for in the second half.
Josh Gillies went close to breaking the deadlock two minutes after the restart, but his free-kick was pushed behind for a corner by home goalkeeper Joseph Green.
Gavin Cogdon also hit a shot over after some good work by Gillies, while at the other end, substitute Alexander Simmons drilled not far wide after a cutback by Benjamin Hughes.
Finnigan was brought on for just his second appearance since recovering from an ankle injury he picked up in January in the 59th minute, and within three minutes of being introduced, he was in the thick of the action.
Luke Daly drove through midfield and slotted in Craig Baxter down the right, and his low cross was slid in at the near post by Finnigan as he notched his 70th goal for the Mariners.
Gillies appeared to grow in stature as the game went on and one excellent run resulted in him going over in the area, but the referee waved away Shields’ penalty appeals.
Liam Connell had a fine game in goal for Shields and he was alert to deny Neil Austin as he hit a strong effort from 25 yards.
Connell also made a superb stop from Hughes late on to preserve his clean sheet.
The Mariners had opportunities to make the points safe, with Finnigan firing over after a brilliant move and substitute Nathan Lowe also missing the target after a pass by Daly.
But they did enough to see out a 1-0 victory which saw them finish second in the league.
Buxton are their opponents on Tuesday, with kick-off at Mariners Park set to be at 7.45pm.
Season tickets will not be valid for the match, and admission prices will be £10 for adults, £8 for students and over-65s, and £3 for under-16s.
Those with a seated season ticket will have their seat reserved for them as usual, subject to them paying the £10/£8/£3 fee at the turnstiles or from Shields' website in advance.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Adams, Shaw (c), Morse, Turnbull (Lowe 67), Daly, Briggs, Cogdon (Finnigan 59), Mason (Bell 81), Gillies. Subs not used: Lough, Mouanda.
Goal: Finnigan (62).