The start of the 19/20 season for Blyth Spartans under new manager, Lee Clark, began in late June, as they played host to Stranraer in a pre-season friendly. The side features a whole host of new and unfamiliar faces, who took to the pitch for their first time in the famous green and white. As expected, the first half was a bit of a disjointed performance. Foden looked shaky in nets throughout the first half, before dropping a simple catch from a corner, falling lucky for the opposition player to put Stranraer 1-0 up.
With only 3 training sessions under their belts, the lads we slow to get into the game. But after half time, they began to take control, starting quickly and seeming to grow ever more confident. Blyth now lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, Sweet and Fenwick now leading the line, the latter bullying a poor Stranraer defender for the remainder of the game.
After dominating the possession and creating chance after chance, Tom Devitt was on the end of a Robbie Dale cross to head home the equaliser. One of the then trialists – Spooner? Scott? I was too pissed to remember – put Blyth 2-1 up before Dale Pearson drilled home a free kick to make it 3-1.
It was good to see the new look team come through some adversity and earn the victory, with the likes of Fenwick, Evans and Pearson all shining. This game also marked Hutchy’s first 90 minutes of football, since the horrific injury he sustained at Harrogate in April 2018.
The following Tuesday the first team faced the reserves. The team selection had a heavy focus on trialists early on, with the first team running out 5-0 winners. Admittedly I didn’t bother with this, nor did I bother with that training game on Thursday night against a group of trialists. No clue what the score was, think Blyth won either 3-1 or 3-0.
Next up was a trip over the water to ambitious Northern League side Hebburn. After an adventurous trip on the metro with Pieface, we met up with the rest of the Spartans faithful in Hebburn’s clubhouse, which turned out to be posh as out. I don’t think the game was all that good, although the several pints of Moretti had begun to cloud my judgement by the time kick off came… Graeme Armstrong – aye, he’s still knocking about – put the South Tyneside side 1-0 up from the penalty spot. Nee idea who gave away the pen though.
Scotty Fenwick made it 1-1 with a penalty after Spooner (I think?) was brought down in the box. Hebburn were much the better side in the second half, with Foden being forced into making a few acrobatic saves. It was somewhat against the run of play, when Tom Devitt headed home at the death to hand Blyth the win.
North Shields were up next for Blyth, who featured a whole host of former Spartans in their ranks, with players Ben Christensen, Wayne Buchanan (who was still towing his tractor), Paul Robinson and Adam Foster.
Blyth came flying out the traps with Wrightson and Evans tearing apart Shields on Blyth’s right side. Pearson missed a few chances in the opening stages, which seemed to be down to the wet playing surface. Pearson did find himself on the end of a Rhys Evans cross, scoring the opening goal of the game at the half hour mark, before Fenwick doubled the lead just moments later. Early in the second half, Pearson rounded the keeper to make it 3-0. Shields began to press more frequently as the half got on, which created a few chances and forced Foden into making some good saves. Despite paying £3 for a pint of Fosters in the Meadow Well, of all places, a successful Tuesday night out.
A trip to Seaham Red Star was next on the agenda. Despite Pieface going around Holystone roundabout a million times, then almost taking out a wall when trying to park up at the ground, we managed to make it there unscathed. Admittedly the ground wasn’t up to much and the pints were pretty awful to be fair. Clark had Blyth start the game using a 5-3-2 formation, which from the get go looked awkward for a number of players, leaving Blyth to play rather awful football in the first half, with Seaham ended up going in 1-0 up at the break.
Blyth reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation for the second half, making a few changes in the break. The play improved dramatically, putting Blyth right back in the game, finishing 4-1 winners thanks to goals from Fenwick, Spooner, Wrightson and Orrell. Not the most glamorous of games but a win’s a win.
Days later the Spartans faced the Northern Premier League East champions Morpeth Town, in a game which many believed to be our biggest test of pre-season so far. Jeff Henderson put the visitors 1-0 up early on with his header at the back post. Blyth failed to deal with another corner just minutes later, this time Sean Reid ended up stabbing it home to make it 2-0. Spartans did pull one back before halftime though, as Spooner broke through the middle and played a great through-ball into Orrell, whose shot couldn’t beat the keeper, but his rebound fell kindly into the path of Scotty Fenwick who fired the ball into the back of the net.
Early in the second half, former Spartan Sayer lofted in a deep free kick which eventually found Jack Foalle, who headed home Morpeth’s third. Blyth managed to once again pull it back to within one goal, as later in the second half Lowson gave away a penalty, following him twatting a Blyth player during a corner. This just left Dale Pearson to convert from the spot. Moments later, Pearson had a chance to level it as he won another, albeit fairly soft penalty, but this time he hit it wide. From the resulting goal kick, Lowson punted it forward for Foalle to get in behind the defender, who slotted straight past Foden to make it 4-1. For a friendly, it was somewhat bad tempered, as Morpeth aimed to kick the shite out the Blyth players at any and every given opportunity.
Next up came Whickham, which on paper looked like a tough test for the Spartans, as the likes of Adam Bartlett, Carl Finnigan, Matty Pattison and Conor Newton make up the starting eleven for Whickham these days. That definitely wasn’t the case however, as Blyth tore them apart over 90 minutes and won 6-0, with goals from Orrell, Butler, Mouanda – scored absolute thundercunt of a shot – and Wrightson. Whickham were poor on the night but take nothing away from Spartans at all. Mouanda and Orrell both had superb games amongst a few others.
A road trip up north to Ashganistan followed just 2 days later. A pretty poor game by all accounts saw Blyth run out 3-0 winners despite a really slow start. Fenwick and Pearson the goalscorers in that one. Paul Stevenson said in an interview after, that the lads were a bit knackered given the amount of games they’d played in such a short span of time.
Whitley Bay visited Croft Park that following Tuesday, which turned out to be a glorious summers evening. Admittedly though, the game was far from a classic. New signing Michael Sweet, who had just returned from holiday, popped up with a brace of goals in what was a solid opening 45 minutes for Blyth. Mark Foden looked solid throughout and was forced to make a few good saves throughout the half.
Spartans tempo seemed to slow very quickly in the second half. Jake Orrell created a number problems for the Whitley Bay defence and was the only real bright spark during the second half. Trialist keeper Sam Guthrie played for the second half, unfortunately suffered from a bit of a nightmare, conceding a poor goal before spilling a few more shots. Thankfully he’s ended up signing for Gateshead, so they’ve ended up stuck with him. The game ended as Spartans won, 2-1.
The penultimate friendly saw Blyth take on an Aberdeen XI for the Texo Challenge Trophy.
Blyth started the game much the better side, creating a number chances early on, but found themselves unable to have a real go at goal. Adam Wrightson absolutely tore apart the Aberdeen left back thought the half, eventually playing a great ball into Dale Pearson who cut in from left wing, only for him to miss converting the chance from close range. Foden gave the ball away with just minutes left in the half with a poor pass when playing out from the back, only to hoy an Alex Gildea-esque tackle to win it back. 10/10 for effort. 0/10 for nerves.
Early in the second half, Wrightson blasted past the Aberdeen full back once again, breaking into the box and thundering one straight past the keeper. The goal was certainly well deserved and the crowd certainly showed their appreciation for Wrighty’s effort. Jake Orrell was certainly causing problems on right hand side too, crossing in for Michael Sweet, who subsequently blasted his effort over the bar from a few yards out. That almost looked like it would come back to haunt Blyth, as Aberdeen broke from a counter-attack, with their striker simply lobbing the ball over Foden, who had attempted to rush out and close the forward down.
With just 10 minutes left on the clock, another penalty shootout loomed. I can safely say neither my heart, nor my arse is ready for that just yet. Thankfully there may well be a god. Sweet was one on one with the keeper, his shot parried back out and taking a fortunate deflection off the Aberdeen defender. Helpless, the Aberdeen players could do nothing to stop the ball ending up in the back of the net, much to the hysterics of everyone in the Plessey Road end. It didn’t take long till it became 3-1 either, as Wrightson’s shot was kept out by the keeper, only for his parry to find Scotty Fenwick, who pounced on the rebound, smashing it into the back of net. He even managed to pose for the camera as he ran off to celebrate.
The haggis bashers pulled one back in the dying seconds, but it was a case of too little to late, with the referee blowing his whistle not long after the re-start. Blyth would be crowned the inaugural Texo Challenge Cup champions.
In all honesty, I’ve really enjoyed this pre-season. It’s the first time I’ve been able to say that for a number of years as well.
Going into the opening game against Stranraer I didn’t have a clue what to expect. If anything, I was a bit apprehensive given some of the quality players we’d lost over the summer. Thankfully though, Lee and Paul have put together a really good squad, with a mixture of good young prospects and some old experienced heads. The squad is full of players who aren’t afraid to get stuck in and play their heart out for the shirt.
I’m excited to see Hutchy back as well. Perhaps been a bit of an unsung hero throughout pre-season. However, he’s come back and so far it looks like he’s not lost a yard of pace at all. For anyone who perhaps has a few lingering doubts over the quality of the new lads, don’t worry at all. I’m sure a lot of these lot will surprise you.
Saturday will see Blyth face off against some Southern ponce’s in the form of Gloucester City. Lee Clark and his new look team more than deserve a big crowd for the opening game. So bring a pal, or four, and gan doon to the clubhouse early doors for a few Red Stripe’s, then get out on to the terraces to support the lads.