North Shields are fit, in form and raring to go ahead of Wednesday night’s NFA Senior Cup final against Blyth Spartans, says assistant manager Andrew Bowman.
A much-changed Shields outfit cruised past Penrith 5-1 on Monday afternoon, and the regular line-up were unfortunate to go out of the League Cup two days prior, knocked out on penalties by league champions Shildon.
With the majority of the first-team regulars rested ahead of the St James’ Park showpiece, Shields are expecting to field a formidable starting 11 against the Spartans – though Bowman admits that strong performances across the board has made squad selection incredibly difficult for the management team.
“We have 19 fit players to pick from, then from 19 to 16, and again to 11,” said Bowman.
“Every one of them could come knocking on the door and saying that we deserve to be starting, but we can only pick 11. It’s made our job an absolute nightmare.”
Only long-term absentees Denver Morris, Marc Lancaster and Adam Forster are guaranteed to be sitting out the final, with central midfielder Michael McKeown facing a fitness test on the night itself.
“Michael is back and is raring to go, but he wants to know if he’ll be strong enough to play, it’ll be touch and go, that decision.
“Dean Holmes got another 60 minutes (against Penrith) to get him up to speed. Apart from that, everybody else has come good at the right time.”
Like Shields, Blyth Spartans will be looking to bounce back from semi-final disappointment, their hopes of promotion to the Conference North ended by a heartbreaking 4-3 defeat at home to Workington.
“They haven’t won any silverware this year, when they thought they were going to do so around Christmas.
“It’s a great cup to win, and I’m sure Tom Wade and Lee Picton will be itching to win it. They did so well to be up there this season, but they’re a great side.
“I’m sure they’ll be like a bear with a sore head on Wednesday, and they’ll be wanting revenge on somebody.”
Having endured a stop-start campaign, North Shields are still within touching distance of the division’s top teams, and could end the footballing year with another trophy to add to the cabinet.
Triumph in the Senior Cup would not only see Shields lift silverware for a third successive season, but would give the Robins another platform on which to build, according to the assistant manager.
“We want to kick on in these last few games, as finishing in the top six again would establish us as a top six Northern League team.
“Say that four or five years ago and you’d think we were barmy, but now we’re competing in big finals, and we are a force to be reckoned with.
“It would get us going into next season with a bit of confidence and a bit of momentum. We’re looking forward to it, it should be a great night.”