One of non-league’s most famous FA Cup names are at it again. Blyth Spartans have set up a dream third round tie against Blackburn Rovers after netting a last minute winner in their replay against AFC Bournemouth.
Blyth, who play in a distinctive green and white striped strip, have great pedigree in this competition and in 1978 nearly became the first non-league side to reach the quarter-finals after they went narrowly down to Wrexham in a replay.
The Spartans were one of the famous names of the amateur game, winning the Northern League ten times in 29 seasons in the years after 1964, but it’s in the FA Cup that the club really made their name.
In the 77/78 season, they had to play four qualifying games before reaching the first round proper, where they beat fellow non-leaguers Burscough 1-0 before defeating Chesterfield by the same scoreline in the second round.
While Spartans supporters may have been disappointed with their third round draw at home to Enfield Town from the Isthmian League, it also presented them with a winnable tie (notwithstanding that Enfield had beaten them in the FA Amatuer Cup the year before). True to form, Blyth won the game by a single goal.
Their fourth round tie was much harder – recently relegated Stoke City, containing the likes of Garth Crooks, were the overwhelming favourites going into the second round and when the Potters went 2-1 up, it looked like Blyth’s fairytale run was over.
But, summing up a spirit their warrior namesakes would have been proud of, the Spartans duly equalised before netting an unlikely but memorable winner in the last minute.
Wrexham were their fifth round opponents, having dispatched Newcastle United in the fourth round, but Blyth still managed to secure a 1-1 draw at the Racecourse Ground. The replay, moved to St. James’ Park, saw over 42,000 turn out in the hope of another memorable upset.
Sadly it wasn’t to be, as Wrexham went two-nil up before halftime. Despite pulling a goal back, Blyth couldn’t find a way past the Dragons and their run came to an end, but not before they’d truly etched their name on one of the most memorable cup runs in FA Cup history.
This season has been an equally long journey to Ewood Park, starting back on September 27th, when Spartans needed a replay to get past Whitby Town. After that, Buxton were dispatched 1-0 before seeing off the famous Sheffield FC 3-1 to make it to the first round of the FA Cup proper.
What’s followed has been two giant-killings for the Blue Square North side. First up were Shrewsbury Town, who’d been scoring for fun in League Two and have been a near-permanent fixture in the automatic promotion places.
But the Shrews never got started against Blyth, who put home advantage to good use and coasted to a 3-1 victory to set up a second round tie against crisis club Bournemouth.
If any club could do with the windfall of a cup run, then Bournemouth are that team. Having spent the season ensconced in the relegation places in League Two thanks to a deduction of 17 points, Bournemouth are still struggling financially and desperately hoping to avoid relegation to the Conference. For a cash-strapped side, a tie against a Premiership side would have made life a lot easier.
But Blyth held the Cherries to a goalless draw at the end of November and the tie looked to be heading for extra time until substitute Ged Dalton netted in the 89th minute to send the Spartans marching on their way to victory.
Blyth may not be having a good league campaign – they currently sit one from bottom in the Blue Square North – but they’ve already made their mark on this year’s competition, and who’s to say they can’t go further.
Blackburn are about as vulnerable as they can be right now. A team without a manager, low on confidence and sitting in the relegation zones in the Premier League are, perhaps, ripe for a giant killing. If Blyth could edge past Blackburn, it would easily equal their 1978 achievements.
These kind of results and match ups (Barrow v Middlesborough is another classic third round cup draw) are what makes the FA Cup one of the greatest knockout competitions in the world. Last season was a breath of fresh air in an era dominated by the big four, and this year looks to be shaping up just as nicely.
You can see all the goals from the FA Cup second round at ITV’s FA Cup website.