Gateshead are firm favourites to see off local rivals Blyth Spartans in today’s FA Cup first-round tie. But Blyth boss Steve Cuggy sees things a little differently, he tells Steve Brown.
THE past weighs heavily on Blyth Spartans, but it is not always a bad thing.
The past, Steve Cuggy believes, shows what is possible in the future.
The Croft Park club entertains time-served rivals Gateshead in the first round of the FA Cup this afternoon.
Bottom of Blue Square Bet North play sixth from the league above, and most have written off Blyth’s chances against their full-time opponents.
Yet Spartans boss Cuggy insists a home victory would not be the biggest surprise in the club’s rich heritage, and the record books back his claim.
In 1978 Blyth beat Chesterfield and Stoke City to reach the FA Cup fifth round, where they were eventually beaten by Wrexham in a replay watched by more than 42,000 at St James’ Park.
And three years ago, after victories over Shrewsbury Town and AFC Bournemouth, the club exited the third round at the hands of Blackburn Rovers.
So hope from history then. Lessons learned too.
In February, the Tynesiders won an FA Trophy quarter-final at Croft Park without fully breaking sweat until Mick Tait’s side emerged from their shell and cranked up the pressure in the latter stages.
Cuggy witnessed that game as a spectator and, as a Blyth lad and former Spartans striker, felt the fans’ pain.
As such, his Blyth – having succeeded Tait in the summer – must, he says, show Ian Bogie’s men just the requisite level of respect come 3pm, if they are to restore some pride.
More than that, with the pressure off them for a change, Cuggy fearlessly believes victory is far from beyond his team. Just think Stoke, Shrewsbury, Bournemouth . . . “The lads are raring to go, if they’re not there’s something wrong because this is what we’re here for, big games like this,” Blyth boss Cuggy said.
“But we won’t enjoy it unless we get a result, that’s for sure.
“Everyone knows the FA Cup is a special competition for Blyth, which is an added pressure because it doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, you’re expected to get a result.
“But on the other hand some of the pressure’s off us. We’ve haven’t had the results we wanted in the league, and in the earlier rounds of the cup, against Bedlington Terriers and Whitby Town especially, we were the ones expected to win. So I know the position Gateshead are in, it’s a difficult one for them, especially the longer the game goes on, if we’re still in it.
“That’s what we have to strive for, and then get the crowd really pushing for us. That’ll give us a big, big lift.
“We know we’re underdogs but this wouldn’t be the greatest shock in Blyth’s history by a long stretch in the game, so we don’t think we’re out of it by any stretch of the imagination.
“We will be if we don’t turn up on the day, but if everybody puts a shift in we’ve got a chance.
“They’re not Manchester United or Arsenal, but they are a full-time outfit and a very good one. They’re very organised, and they’ve got a bit of everything in their team – a bit of pace, a bit of mobility.
“So we’ve got to give them respect, but not too much.
“I was at the FA Trophy game last season, it was a disappointing day and having spoken to a couple of lads who played in it, Blyth didn’t perform the way Mick (Tait) wanted them to.
“They’re really motivated to put that right. They showed Gateshead too much respect, and stood off them until later on in the game.
“I know that really hurt the Blyth supporters, so we really do want to put a show on for them. This is an opportunity that’s come round very quickly for us to put that right, and restore some pride.
“I’m just determined to make sure we put a big performance in and continue the improvement we’ve shown over the last three or four weeks.
“We’re not afraid of them and I’m sure we’ll give them a game.”
And few echo that sentiment more than Wayne Phillips, newly returned to green and white after six years away from the club which included a spell at Gateshead that has him even more driven than most to prevail this afternoon. He said: “It’s a massive game for the club, and me especially playing against my old club. I still have a lot of friends there.
“This is the first time I’ve reached the first round of the FA Cup so I’m really looking forward to it. For any footballer it’s a special competition, and especially at Blyth.
“The club has a great history in the FA Cup, going back to Blackburn and Wrexham, so everyone knows how important it is.
“We’re obviously not doing the best in the league at the moment, but it’s a cup game and anything can happen.
“That’s the way the lads have to look at it. Everyone knows we’re down there at the bottom of the league for a reason, but we can’t dwell on that or there’s no point turning up.
“The emphasis will be on Gateshead, with them going well in the league above and being full-time.
“But all we can do is go out and give 100 per cent, and hopefully we’ll get a result. We’re confident, the lads all know their jobs and we know if we perform as well as we’re capable, we can give them a game, then who knows?”
BLYTH supporters are reminded that a limited number of tickets – priced £12 and £6 for concessions – remain on sale from the Croft Park social club between 11.30am and 1pm today.