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Review of 2022: SSFC Men

South Shields will begin 2023 sitting top of the Pitching In Northern Premier League after a productive first half of the season for Kevin Phillips' side.

The Mariners are three points clear of Hyde United and have two games in hand on the Greater Manchester outfit after winning five of their last seven matches in 2022.

Their experiences across the calendar year will tell them that there is a huge deal of work to do in the next four months if their ambition of promotion is to be realised, with just one automatic promotion spot available and the teams which finish second to fifth entering the play-offs.

The Mariners started 2022 sitting fourth in the table, five points behind leaders Buxton, and kicked things off with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Scarborough Athletic on New Year's Day, with Will McGowan scoring the first of Shields' 88 goals in the year.

A 2-0 victory over Radcliffe followed but that proved to be the last game in charge for manager Graham Fenton, who was replaced by former Sunderland, Aston Villa and England striker Kevin Phillips in the dugout.

Phillips' tenure opened with an excellent 2-1 win at Warrington Town, which was quickly followed by a 3-1 success against Witton Albion in his first home match and a 2-2 draw at title rivals Buxton.

A clutch of winter postponements had led to the Mariners playing catch-up in the second half of the campaign, and this appeared to have a major bearing on their title challenge.

A run of seven away games without a win ultimately proved their undoing, although home wins continued to flow, with nine consecutive victories at 1st Cloud Arena only ended in the final home fixture of the regular league season.

Included in that sequence was a 2-0 win over Stafford Rangers on non-league day, when the BBC Football Focus cameras descended on the club and a crowd of 2,676 roared Shields to victory.

Shields were 1-0 winners at FC United of Manchester as their away day blues were put to bed and they pushed eventual title winners Buxton close, with just three points separating the sides at the end of the season as the Mariners finished second.

That handed them a home tie in the semi-final of the play-offs against Warrington, but it proved to be a hugely dispiriting night as Darius Osei's goal was cancelled out early in the second half and the match went all the way to penalties, where the Yellows prevailed 6-5.

Warrington progressed to the final, where they were beaten by Scarborough, who went on a tremendous run of form after their New Year's Day loss at 1st Cloud Arena.

Shields regrouped in the summer and revamped their squad, bringing in experience aplenty with the likes of Gary Liddle, Michael Woods, Martin Smith, Tom Broadbent and Lewis Alessandra.

A positive pre-season included the full opening of the new main stand at 1st Cloud Arena, and the momentum continued when Woods and Joao Gomes netted in a 2-0 opening day win over Stalybridge Celtic.

A new-look Mariners side went winless in their next three games, which were all drawn, but pleasing battling qualities were displayed and back-to-back 1-0 victories over Nantwich Town and Morpeth Town saw them end August on a high.

A historic journey in the Emirates FA Cup started with a remarkable 3-2 win against Workington, when Woods - prolific in the opening weeks of the season - netted twice late on to turn a likely exit into a hard-fought victory.

Three days later, Mackenzie Heaney - another summer arrival - netted a stoppage time winner against Guiseley in the league, which was one of six consecutive victories in all competitions for the Mariners.

Shields scored 10 goals across two FA Cup ties against Shildon and Marske United, with Alessandra and Dylan Mottley-Henry notching hat-tricks, but then tasted defeat for the first time in the league, with FC United scoring twice in the closing stages to snatch a 2-1 win.

Five straight wins in all competitions followed, including an excellent 1-0 success against National League side Scunthorpe United which booked the Mariners a place in the first round of the FA Cup for just the second time since reforming in 1974.

Further challenges were to come, with Shields defeated in three successive matches in three different competitions as their challenges in the Buildbase FA Trophy and Emirates FA Cup were ended, the latter at the hands of League One side Forest Green Rovers despite a valiant display in front of the BBC cameras and a record 1st Cloud Arena crowd of 3,800.

The final of those three losses was at home to leaders Hyde United in the league, and Shields' response to that was emphatic.

In their next seven games, they scored 20 goals and won seven times, with Osei extremely influential after the end of his loan spell at Ashton United, and Jordy Mongoy hitting the ground running after joining from Wealdstone.

Highlights included a 5-0 thumping of Bamber Bridge and 2-1 win at Radcliffe, while the year was brought to a close with a 4-2 victory over Whitby Town which saw Dillon Morse, captain Blair Adams and Broadbent find the net for the first time this season.

That gave Phillips and his Mariners great belief heading into 2023, with 41 points accrued from the first 20 games heading into Monday's derby away to Morpeth.

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