‘The Surprise Package of the Season’ | Blyth Spartans AFC | 2019/20 | Part 2

Blyth Spartans finished as the top scorers in the division, although their defense was leaky to say the best. Still, I guess that’s what you get when you have an all action style of football and three strikers and no midfield.

Nevertheless, it’s those kinds of tactics are fairly easy to get away with in the lower divisions, although whether they’ll hold up in the more professional full time leagues is another question for another time, which will probably be asked (and answered) during the relegation fights in League One and the Championship.

All in all it was a massively successful season, as Blyth Spartans fired themselves to glory by an almost completely new-team that was made up entirely of free transfers.

2019/2020 Season Summary – Like all good disorganized and unstructured amateur video game bloggers doing this for the very first time, my euphoria of winning the league and knocking out professional football clubs a further up the footballing pyramid in a historic F.A. Cup run overtook the fact that I was supposed to charter my progress through scrappy documentation and some carefully selected screenshots.

But not to worry, for the pen (ie blog) is mightier than the sword (screenshot). Besides, the most important fact in this section is that we actually won the league, which was quite impressive considering that the board wanted us to fight against the drop in a season in which we were predicted to get relegated.

Pre Season; Signings

The issue with lower league clubs, especially when compared to clubs further up the pyramid, isn’t necessarily the financial aspect or even the quality of players at ones disposal (even though a boost in both departments would be helpful to everyone); its the fact that the entire squad is usually on a 12 month contract.

This has both advances and disadvantages. Whilst its easier to let a player who doesn’t want to leave run down his contract, it also means that contract renewals are a massive ball ache.

Player turnover tends to be high, especially within the first few seasons, and especially when you’re trying to build a nucleus and find which players fit into the best system available.

On the upside its easy to make huge positive differences to the squad with very little effort. Whilst keeping an eye on the attributes of players further up the pyramid is an imperative way to find out if an individual is going to raise the quality of the team, its a different story in the lower leagues.

Find a player who has 12 finishing and 12 pace? He could probably score you 15 – 20 goals a season, even if he doesn’t have much else going on.

It’s true that the same player can come unstuck in a division or two above, but generally its easier to fill a squad from the a lower league team with quality than it is to fill it with rubbish.

As such the additions to the team were modest yet important additions that became game changing players in the first season.

Defensive midfielder Romario Vieira was a great signing with an even better name, settling into his role as a Ball Winning Midfielder that sat in front of a three man defense.

Tunisian playmaker Issam Ben Khemis joined the club and added some quality behind the front three, whilst 33 year-old journeyman midfielder Michael Collins came in, sat in the Libero role and became the Irish Sinisa Mihjalovic with his set-piece delivery and penalty taking coolness.

Upfront it was a complete makeover; 19 year-old Tommy Caffrey, recently released by Celtic, came in along with Irish compatriot Louise Rowe and John Smith, a Scottish striker from Dundee.

All three were first choice forwards, with Ben Khamis playing as a Shadow Striker for a third of the season until dropping him back into midfield gave us a better shape and better ball retention, which was a bonus, if not an outright ambition.

In general the squad rotated between four to five strikers, although the first choice front three all got into double figures, even if it varied somewhat.

Pre Season: Tactics

The aim was simple; get hold of the ball, launch it to the forwards and let them chase it down to get on the end of or get them to pressure the fuck out of the back line, hopefully winning that second or third ball.

The entire team played high and aggressive, getting in the faces of the opposition, getting well and truly stuck in and making life difficult for the opposition. Getting it in the mixer as soon as possible was important, as was the tempo, our Ghana played at such an intensity that in lower leagues it should have been made illegal.

Set up as a semi-outrageous 3-1-2-1-3, the team usually reverted to a 3-1-3-3 with the Shadow Striker usually dropping back into midfield when not in possession, this usually being Issam Ben Khemis.

Whilst playing fairly OK in the first half of the season, his performances improved when moved into an Advanced Playmaker role in midfield, his deeper position meaning that he had more time on the ball and more ahead of him, making better use of the options and generally making better decisions in the final third, and scoring a couple of long range thunderbolts to boot.

2019/2020 Fixtures & Results – The first couple of games offered a promising glimpse into what the rest of the season might hold, although despite picking up 12 points and sitting within the top six, there were some worrying signs that the season might become more inconsistent than a Theo Walcott career.

Defeats at home to Alfreton and AFC Telford (both at home) and a loss away to Kettering – the only team that I failed to beat home or away all season – had me thinking that the tactics I had chosen were either going to blow teams away or send us to the slaughter house, both in equal measures without ever really succumbing to one aspect more than the other.

The 3-1-2-4 tactic that I started off with looked promising, a barrage of forwards that got right into the faces of the opposition who also had the added bonus of being able to outrun most defenders they came across AND put the ball into the back of the net.

The idea of defending from the front by relentlessly pressing and attacking has always been something I’ve been a fan of; attacking is the best form of defense they say, and what better way to do than field three pressing forwards and a shadow striker?

The tactic really did yield some spectacular results; 6-1 victories away at Southport and at home to Bradford PA, coupled with a last minute 2-1 against Kings Lynn that was an at-the-time six pointer.

After tweaking with the tactics a little, specifically trying to play more direct and at a higher tempo, my form in January and mid-February suffered, to the point where I thought my probable promotion would be more a stumble instead of a sprint to the finish line.

Still, it was a season of both personal and professional victories. A 5-1 hammering of title rivals York City, coupled with some thumping victories over local rivals Spennymoore and Gateshead gave the Spartans a solid foundation for the campaign, despite some unexpected and unacceptable home losses to Darlington and Southport, who exacted revenge by beating me 5-2 on my home ground.

However, it wasn’t only the title win that added gloss to an impressive goal scoring season.

An F.A. Cup run that took me all the way to the third round (where I was bummed 6-1 by Norwich at Carrow Road) added some much needed funds to the bank, both in terms of prize money and gate receipts.

Some massive victories away to Carlisle (2-1) and Fleetwood Town gave the fans one helluva season to remember, and pretty much secured the financial future of the club – for the next couple of seasons at least, barring some major lower-league Leeds-like transfers -with the money going towards better wages and better players as we look to settle into life in the Vanarama National League for the first time in the clubs history.

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