Despite semi-stumbling over the finishing line to the title after peaking around January time, it goes without saying that surely just being able to avoid the drop would constitute as a positive season, right?
Well in theory, yes. Despite the absolutely unprecedented first season success of Blyth Spartans, winning the title and gaining promotion was the just deserts that the club deserved after some tremendous results, minus the little blip around January time.
The cherry on top, however, was sticking it to the bigger teams in the F.A. Cup, especially against Carlisle and Fleetwood, in which we scored a last minute winner despite having a man sent off (even though this was definitely in the same game, I can’t actually remember which game it was).
The suicidal tactics against Norwich, however, was a dumb move. Yes, having no midfield and four forwards seemed like a good idea at the time – I mean it had worked against pretty much everyone else up until then – but the reality was like eating a plate of refrigerated vomit; unrelenting, cold, and absolutely unenjoyable to experience.
Aims & Objectives
The problem with being hugely successful in the first season inevitably means that you’ve built a rod for your own back; a decent cup run and some all out attacking high octane football that takes the league by storm and suddenly your board and chairman start ‘demanding things’ and putting goals and targets into the ‘Club’s Vision’. The cheek of it all.
For the board to incorporate ‘Attacking Football’ and a ‘High-Tempo Pressing’ style of football into the clubs vision is, in my humble opinion, a little premature. Just because we did it one season, that means you want to do it all the time from now until the end of eternity?
Either way, most of the players look like they could probably do a decent job in flipping the bird at the critics and defying the pre-season prediction of finishing rock bottom. If anything, I’m hoping the team can climb the table to push on for something decent this season.
Now that the board have a taste for high scoring games and a disgustingly intense press, it’s going to be difficult for me to move away from this asymmetrical yet highly attritional tactic I’ve created.
I’ll probably be sticking with this for most of the season, but future tactics may be altered and adapted, hopefully in the event of me avoiding the absolute spankings that could be handed out if Blyth Spartans continue to climb the league like a demented northern green and white striped version of Wimbledon FC.
In short, with Ben Khemis still at the club weaving his magic, and by weaving his magic I mean not really weaving his magic, but performing to a somewhat satisfactory level after being shoehorned into the team from an attacking standpoint at least, we’ll continue with the 3-1-3-3 that has currently served us so well.
There’s also a huge chance that the Libero role that Collins played in during his only season with us could also retreat back to a simple central defender; whether this will have an impact on how we play remains to be seen. After all, the last time we saw a team revert from a formation with a Libero to a formation without a Libero was… well, I don’t think its ever happened. Cue more history making from the Spartans.
Despite not being very good at defending, or anything affiliated with defending, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that the signing of Justin Donawa will prove to a be an astute buy. After all, I signed him on the assumption that his pace will be able to compensate for everything.
Despite not being able to tackle, and with very little else in the way of defensive capabilities, but he’s good at running around at high speed which, even though he’ll be playing a defensive winger role, won‘t actually matter that much, as he’ll probably end up speeding past everyone and putting in the mixer once he’s got hold of the ball.
Speaking of game changing attributes, we are very blessed with – wait for it – the signing of Jai Quitongo, everybody’s favorite Scottish/Angolan journeyman forward.
Also nicknamed ‘The Angel from Angola’, aka ‘The Saint from Scotland’, both nicknames that were given to ‘JQ’ by me just now in this blog, Quitongo has gone onto be a bonafide half-decent player in some previous iterations of certain FM saves of mine, which has led me down the path of religiously trying to sign him in most of my saves that involve small shitty clubs, even if he ends up underwhelming.
This time, however, he looks to be the real deal, and by real deal I mean the kind of player that smash 30 goals for his soon-to-be new favorite north eastern club playing in the Vanarama National League.
And because we didn’t have enough strikers at the club – I currently count eight, not including Lee Connolly, a loanee from Alloa, and an individual who has pace, acceleration, finishing and agility at 14 – we bought another forward in the form of 16 year-old Irishman Paul Smith (what’s with all the Irish players!?), for a club record fee of… £20,000.
Still, with 15 finishing, what else matters right? Hopefully by the time I’ve scrambled further up the pyramid, either he’ll be absolutely fucking quality, or I’ll be so high up that his inevitable release and the hit we take on his original fee won’t even matter anymore.
Still, there’s nothing like going transfer window shopping and coming away with a regen striker you don’t need, right? Either way, he also play on the wing, which is great, as I love to have wingers, especially defensive wingers, who aren’t very good at defensive winging, but can still put the ball in the mixer or in the net at the earliest and any given opportunity
Oh, and finally, and we also signed Peter Grant, who has a decent amount of high scoring attributes (for a lower league player anyway). If he wasn’t so boring and defensive compared to my other marquee signings, he might actually turn out to be the signing of the season.
Even though there is a quiet confidence amongst the manager about what Blyth can achieve this season, the reality is that the squad should be strong enough at least to finish no lower than mid table.
The three man pressing striker force and all action style of football should be enough, along with the ridiculous collection of strikers, while the step up in division should be easy for someone like Ben Khamis to adapt to.
Romario Vieira should also be good enough to hold his own in this division, although the need for some versatility for the wings (both sides) and defense and midfield might need to be addressed in the January transfer window or the end of the season.
Results & End of Season Summary
Similar to the sexual experiences most woman have had with Peepshow’s character Mark Corrigan, what started out promising for Blyth ended up fizzing out into a disappointing anti-climax.
It should be noted that despite finishing fourth, Blyth’s first season in the Vanarama National League was full of footnotes and major newsworthy events.
Against a backdrop of two cup runs which ended prematurely, coupled with a not-so-cheeky but really more blatant attempt by Wrexham to hijack Blyth’s talented young manager, Blyth’s season was only bettered (or ‘worsed’?) by club almost nearly threatening to do some real damage at the top end of the Vanarama National. And that’s not even mentioned the fact that their manager Mackay-Phillips celebrated his 100th game in charge, an underwhelming 2-1 loss away to an at the time eleventh placed Sutton United.
After a promising start of nine wins in their opening 12 games, including an eight game unbeaten run – which also included a five game winning streak – which launched the team to the top of the table like a newly released synth pop single in the 80s, Blyth’s run before Christmas and over the New Year period was utterly grotesque.
Losses away to Barnet, at home to Hartlepool and Sutton United were exasperated by an F.A. Cup First Round knock out against Coventry City, despite taking the lead in a 2-1 defeat at The Ricoh Arena (when the fuck did they go back to the Ricoh Arena!?).
By the middle of January the club were 8th, sliding out of the playoffs, in the same way a toddlers ice cream melts down his damp cone on a hot summers day, as The Spartans spanked all of their games in hand on lessons on how to bottle a surprise promotion push halfway through the season.
The Spartans didn’t really pick up any sort of decent form again until late January, when they recorded four wins in a row; a 3-1 away win to third place Aldershot injected some much needed belief into the side, although it was abundantly clear what was happening in the team; if Quitongo wasn’t scoring and Donawa was having off game (or on international duty, which he was for a fair few games of the season), The Spartans were fucked. A resounding 6-1 thumping away at Wealdstone courtesy of Jai Quitongo hat trick conned the lads into believing again, only for the players to end up dropping a shed load of point in February.
Despite an early exit in the F.A. Trophy to Gateshead (for fucks sake), The Spartans had a real opportunity to focus on the league, although the never really took it seriously. Despite flying out the gates back in August, a run which had given the Spartans that initial platform for success, they were never able to build upon their early season form and yo-yo’d in and out of the play off positions until the end of the season.
The play offs were confirmed with a game to spare, although somehow they’d managed to keep in touching distance of eventual winners Barnet, a team they failed to beat on both occasions this season.
A promising 4-3 at home to AFC Fylde in First Round Play Off gave the hope that The Spartans could end the season with major honors, despite the scoreline looking a lot closer than the game suggests, courtesy of conceding two goals in the last ten minutes after initially leading 4-1.
However, one of the games of the season came in the form of the Semi-Final Play Off single leg tie away to Stevenage, another promotion rival I had failed to beat during the season.
After losing at home but drawing 3-3 at the Lamex Stadium earlier in the season, the game again raced into a 3-3 scoreline within the first 45 minutes.
After taking the lead three times, The Spartans just couldn’t hold on, with Elliot List scoring his second and Stevenage’s fourth after the break, and captain Ben Fucking Nugent adding the fifth and final blow two minutes from time.
In a season littered with untimely international appearances by Donawa on duty with Bermuda and Romário Vieira with Guinea-Bissau, ill-discipline (Romário Vieira again) and profligacy in front of goal (apart from Jai Quitongo, of course), Blyth should be happy with a four placed finish, a reflection of the fact that do they fuck deserve to be any higher than that.
On the plus side, Mackay-Phillips not only finished as manager of the year, but also broke the record for number of goals scored in the Vanarama National League
Quitongo not only finished as the leagues top scorer, but also the player with the most MotM’s, was voted as Vanarama National League Player of the Year, became the clubs all time leading goal scorer, and became the highest scoring individual in a league season for Blyth.
He was also voted as a clubs player of the year too, basically breaking all the fucking records and entering Blyth folklore.
Young Scottish winger Jordan Elliot was also playing out of his skin (most of the time), and Donawa’s contribution was clear for everyone to see, but it was obvious that back up was needed for the team to be able to sustain its initial push for promotion.
Next year we go again. Keeping wingers Elliot and Donawa are crucial, as is Ben Khemis and Quitongo.
Reducing the size of the squad and finding diversity within playing positions is also crucial.
Replacing the imminently retiring Andrew Davies is going to be difficult, a stalwart of a defender who also chipped in with a couple of goals and some absolute megaton assists in the form his Delap-esq throws.
Next season will be promising, but if we intend to keep the nucleus’s of the squad – which can easily hold its own in the upper echelons of League Two – then keeping the players we have and getting promoted next season is a must.
The finances look healthy, so we have the right tools to add the personnel we need. It’s onwards and upwards for The Spartans.