Matlock Town face a stern test on Saturday afternoon as they square off against South Shields away from home in the NPL Premier Division. The Mariners were comfortably clear at the top of the table when the 2019/20 league campaign was forced into cancellation but did not gain promotion due to the decision to null and void the league rather than award positions on a points per game basis.

The Gladiators will be looking to quickly put their controversial FA Cup exit behind them by making a real statement against the title favourites. Both Matlock and South Shields have only suffered one defeat in their last six games in all competitions.

The Opposition

South Shields currently sit one position above the Gladiators in fourth position in the NPL Premier Division league table. The Mariners have won two, drawn two and lost one in their first five league games of the 2020/21 campaign. In their most recent game, South Shields knocked out Southport on penalties away from home after a 1-1 draw to reach the final qualifying round of the FA Cup. In their most recent game at home, the Mariners suffered a shock 3-1 defeat to Radcliffe in the league.

South Shields’s joint managers are Graham Fenton and Lee Picton. During his time as a player, Fenton made appearances for the likes of Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City. He also made one appearance for the England U21 side. Fenton became manager of South Shields in 2016 after spending four years in charge of North Shields. In terms of trophies, Fenton won the League Cup in 1994 with Aston Villa and in 2000 with Leicester City while also winning the Football League Trophy in 2002 with Blackpool. As a manager, Fenton won the FA Vase with North Shields in 2015 and the FA Vase with South Shields in 2017.

The Mariners play their home games at the 1st Cloud Arena in South Shields. The stadium, in normal circumstances, can hold up to 3,250 spectators. In the 2017/18 campaign, the Mariners won the NPL Division One North league, reached the NPL Premier Division play-off final the season afterwards and then looked set to win the NPL Premier Division league title last season until the Covid-19 pandemic cancelled the season.

The club holds the notoriety of having a pop star and a former politician as their honorary presidents. Little Mix member Jade Thirlwall became an honorary president of the club earlier this year while former Labour MP David Miliband also holds the same role at the Mariners.

One to Watch

Twenty-five year old striker Jason Gilchrist will be a key player to look out for in Saturday’s game. Gilchrist joined the Mariners from Southport last year and has also played for the likes of FC United of Manchester and Accrington Stanley. Gilchrist has also made one England C appearance.

Jason was the National League North’s top goal scorer for the 2017-18 campaign and has scored six goals in South Shields’s last five games.

Team News

New signing Joe Bunney will be available for selection and could well make his debut for the Gladiators. Jon Stewart will still be unavailable due to injury.

Chib Chilaka and Ben Edgson will continue to play for their dual-registered clubs for the time being as will Nathan Whitehead who has very recently joined Clipstone on a dual-registered basis.

Previous Meeting

The last time these two sides met was on September 14 last season in the NPL Premier Division. The Mariners won the game 2-1 at the Proctor Cars Stadium to inflict Matlock’s first defeat of the 2019/20 campaign. Jon Shaw and a converted penalty from Robert Briggs gave South Shields the three points while Marcus Marshall netted Matlock’s reply in front of an attendance of 614.

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