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NPL Match Preview: South Shields vs Stalybridge Celtic

South Shields begin their Pitching In Northern Premier League campaign with a home match against Stalybridge Celtic on Saturday (3pm kick-off).

The Mariners go into the season in confident mood after ending a productive pre-season with five successive victories, culminating in a 3-0 win over Dunston last Saturday.

With points now on the line, the stakes are set to be stepped up as Shields come up against a team under new management, with Chris Willcock having succeeded Simon Haworth in the Stalybridge hotseat this summer.

Shields did the double over Celtic last season – winning the home fixture 4-0 and the reverse 3-1 – but are expecting to face an improved side with strong motivation to impress their new manager.

Manager’s views

Kevin Phillips is beginning his first full season as the Mariners’ manager, and is hoping a bumper crowd will be behind his team.

Shields were denied promotion in agonising fashion last term, losing out on penalties in the semi-final of the play-offs.

After a promising pre-season which saw Phillips given the opportunity to work extensively with a revamped squad featuring eight new signings, there is confidence in the Shields camp heading into the campaign.

Phillips said: “We got lots of good work in during pre-season and now we’re hugely excited about the start of the league campaign.

“The build-up to the first game is always a bit of an anxious time, regardless of whether you’ve had positive or negative results in friendlies, but fortunately we put a good run of results together and made good progression in terms of fitness, performances and the integration of new players into the squad.

“It was a very good pre-season, but the league campaign is totally different.

“It’s important to get off to a good start and with that in mind, we’re delighted to be at home for the first game.

“Our home record was positive last season and we continued that in pre-season. Our goal is to make 1st Cloud Arena a fortress again.”

In seeking a positive home record, Phillips has stressed the importance of the club’s supporters.

He added: “The support we received last season was magnificent and blew me away.

“I would urge our fans to turn up in their droves again this season, get right behind the team and make our ground an uncomfortable place to come for away sides.

“Teams will try to spoil the party and take points from us, starting with Stalybridge, who will provide a tough test.

“We’ll give them the respect they deserve, but with a bumper crowd behind us, we’ll be desperate to send them home happy.

“There’s no guarantee every game this season is going to be pretty with free-flowing football, but I can guarantee the players will work their socks off every week and give 100% for the cause.”

Team news

Shields go into the opening fixture without Lewis Alessandra, Dillon Morse, JJ Hooper, Cedric Main and Callum Ross.

Alessandra is nursing a calf injury which he sustained in his first training session after joining the club last Friday. A swift recovery is expected for the frontman.

Morse has returned to training after a groin injury, but is building his way back to match sharpness and is not considered ready for a place in the squad on Saturday.

There are hopes Hooper will return from a hamstring injury within the next two weeks, with Main also not expected to be out long-term with the knee injury which kept him out of the club’s pre-season fixtures.

Ross is being carefully managed in his return from knee surgery earlier this year and after experiencing a slight setback in training. A definitive date for his playing comeback has not yet been set.

Information for supporters

Kick-off at 1st Cloud Arena is at 3pm and tickets for the match cost from £12 for adults, £9 for concessions, £5 for those aged 12 to 16 and £3 for under-12s. A £2 upgrade is available for those wishing to seat. Supporters can purchase a ticket in advance by clicking here or pay at the turnstiles, which are set to open at 12.30pm, by cash or card.

The Barbour Lounge and balcony will be open to all supporters on a first-come, first-served basis. The use of these areas will be subject to availability on a match-by-match basis, and hospitality continues to be available there for future games when booked in advance.

Happy Hour pricing will be in operation in all bars between 12.30pm and 1.30pm, and from 5.30pm to 6.30pm.

Free live entertainment is available in the new bar between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, with the brilliant Annabel Pattinson set to perform.

A match programme, packed with content, is available to purchase for £3 and also acts as a raffle ticket, with one lucky programme holder to win a signed SSFC shirt. Check the back of your programme for your lucky number, with the winner to be drawn at half-time.

Supporters who have yet to collect their season ticket can do so from turnstiles 3 and 4.

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