A much-changed Shields side were beaten 1-0 by Grantham Town as their participation in this season’s play-off competition was confirmed.
The Mariners went into the final day of the season needing a remarkable set of results to overturn leaders Buxton’s advantage, and it proved to be too tall an order as they were forced to settle for second place.
The four-team play-offs begin with the semi-finals on Tuesday, with Shields to take on Warrington at 1st Cloud Arena as the teams do battle for a place in the final on Monday, May 2.
The game will kick-off at 7.45pm and tickets are available in a priority period for Shields season ticket holders until 1pm on Monday, before the remainder go on general sale.
With an eye on Tuesday’s game, manager Kevin Phillips, formerly of Sunderland and Aston Villa, made nine changes to the Shields line-up for the meeting with Grantham, with Dom Agnew, Blair Rossiter and Joao Gomes handed their first senior league starts.
They were up against an already-relegated team which had shown signs of improvement since their demotion was confirmed, and Grantham’s spirited performance suggested better times may lie ahead for the Gingerbreads in the tier below.
The Mariners controlled possession in the early stages and Rossiter had an early sight of goal which went wide.
Myles Boney captained the youthful side and he was called on to make a smart save with his legs from Lee Shaw, but Shields carried the greater threat initially.
Sam Hodgson hooked a shot wide after impressive work from Will Jenkins, who went close himself with a low strike which Grantham goalkeeper Jim Pollard pushed wide.
Hodgson was also unfortunate to be denied by the offside flag when he smashed home from 12 yards, and he too was kept off the scoresheet by Pollard as the Mariners’ attacks continued.
They will have felt confident going into the second half but the Gingerbreads turned the tables and had the better of proceedings after the break.
Boney saved from Harry Wood but that proved to be a temporary reprieve, with the midfielder heading in what would be the only goal of the game from the resulting corner.
There were few opportunities for an equaliser and in fact, Grantham could have extended their advantage.
Ali Aydemir fired over when well placed and Shaw was also off target with a decent chance for the home side.
The closest Shields came to an equaliser was a long range piledriver from Jenkins which was tipped over by Pollard towards the end.
The result confirmed the Mariners’ final placing of second in the Northern Premier League, and they now take their battle for promotion into the vital play-off semi-final with Warrington.
South Shields: Boney, Tee, Kempster, Shaw (Bodenham 46), Agnew, Rose, Rossiter, Wilding (McGowan 65), Hodgson (Hooper 65), Jenkins, Gomes. Subs not used: Hunter, Osei.