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Mark Carruthers: North Shields worthy title winners but patience is still key

The Ebac Northern League has crowned its champions for the first time in three years after North Shields confirmed their title triumph with a 3-1 win at Whitley Bay last week.

By Mark Carruthers
Tuesday, 19th April 2022, 7:36 pm

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Mark Carruthers' non-league column.
Mark Carruthers' non-league column.

They are deserved champions too after a season full of discipline, relentlessness and consistency thrust them to the top of the league.

Guided by the experience of the likes of Gary Ormston and Chris McDonald, aided suitably by a cluster of promising youngsters, the Robins will hope to lift the trophy at one of their final three games of the season.

Their spirit and mentality has been proven in the way they bounced back from the disappointment of an FA Vase exit at the hands of Littlehampton Town.

There can be no doubt the Robins were deservedly beaten in their quarter-final tie on the South Coast - but they have moved on in spectacular fashion by losing only one of the 11 games that followed.

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That came last week when Newton Aycliffe inflicted only a fourth league defeat of the season on the champions elect, who, it must be said, looking physically and emotionally exhausted as they were put to the sword by Brian Atkinson’s side.

Nevertheless, with the Northern League winners trophy now in their cabinet, North Shields will progress into the Northern Premier League’s second tier this summer and that will provide them with a number of challenges.

I have written in the past that step four of the non-league system will become something of a holding point for former Northern League clubs.

At present, Hebburn Town, Dunston UTS, Shildon, Stockton Town and Marske United plying their trade in the East Division - although the latter trio could all secure promotion into the Premier Division over the next month.

It should be said that Shildon and Stockton have produced a remarkable performance in their first season in step four and they will look for consecutive promotions via the play-offs next month.

Marske have been involved in a titanic title tussle with Liversedge - and although last weekend’s crucial meeting between the two sides went the way of the visitors, Marske have still shown they are a force to be reckoned with.

The Seasiders have provided something of a blueprint for on-pitch progression after securing promotion from the Northern League.

They were promoted as champions of Division One after completing ‘Mission Impossible’ with a mammoth run of games that saw them overhaul runaway leaders Morpeth Town in the spring of 2017.

Since that historic promotion was secured, the Seasiders have gradually improved an already talented squad with some stunning results.

Carl Jarrett’s men have gradually improved their league position in the time that has passed and have got themselves into a position where promotion - albeit through the play-offs - is a very realistic opportunity.

Over the past four years, clever additions like the remarkably prolific Adam Boyes - who is rapidly approaching a half-century of goals this season - and defensive duo Andrew May and Kevin Burgess have led the Seasiders to becoming one of the most dangerous opposition at their level.

Higher-ranked opposition like Warrington Town, FC United of Manchester, Chester and Blyth Spartans have all fallen at Marske’s feet in various national cup competitions during that time.

And Gateshead’s National League North title-chasing side were pushed all of the way in this season’s FA Cup before reaching the first round of the competition with a replay win after a goalless draw at Mount Pleasant.

Naturally, investment has been made and you don’t attract the calibre of players Marske have without financial outlay.

But in terms of coping with the league, I can’t help but think Marske’s gradual improvement and patient approach has helped them cope with life beyond Northern League level.

Dunston - who inexplicably remain the last crowned Northern League champions thanks to Covid-19 - have followed a similar path.

Chris Swailes’ side have more than held their own since progressing up the non-league pyramid and, although they will fall short of a play-off place this season, they have improved their squad and have solid foundations in place for another top-six challenge next season.

Going back to North Shields, they will need to show similar patience if and when they take to life in the Northern Premier League for the first time.

Their squad will need strengthened - ideally with experience of a higher-level - and their young players, whose talent and potential is unquestionable, will require time to settle into the hustle and bustle of the NPL.

Supporters and those in charge at the Daren Persson Stadium must show similar patience and understanding when the challenges of the East Division hit home in August.

Marc Nash, Anthony Woodhouse and their backroom staff have done a fine job with the Robins squad, integrating intelligent new signings, experienced players and promising youngsters into a fully-functioning unit.

But the division they will move into is full of battle-hardened sides that have firmly established themselves at step four and beyond over a number of seasons.

No game can be taken for granted, no opposition can be underestimated and no stone can be left unturned in preparing for what will be a historic season for the club.

They will, I have no doubt, relish the challenges that lie in wait, but they must also be ready for something of a reality check that may lie in wait.

Once again, patience will be the key quality required.