Darlington (12/03/2024) – PREVIEW/SUPPORTER INFO

After disappointing defeats for both Blyth and Darlington on Saturday, both sides will be absolutely desperate to secure 3 points on Tuesday night as we both look to escape the relegation battle.

The Opposition

Darlington have been one of this season’s surprise stories, in that they’ve been absolutely shite for the most part.

On paper they brought some good players in last summer with the likes of Toby Lees, Mitch Curry, Cameron Salkeld and the returning Will Hatfield all arriving under Alun Armstrong’s watch – but a poor start to the campaign would of course lose Armstrong his job after a disastrous 2023 under his leadership.

Josh Gowling would take the helm in September and make a bit of a dick of it. His only rememberable contribution will be lumbering Darlo with the legendry sick note that is Akwasi Asante, who hasn’t been seen for 2 months. After losing the fans rather early on in his reign, he eventually lost the dressing room at Christmas and was given the boot after a 2-0 defeat away at Scarborough.

In would step Steve Watson, Lee Clark’s drinking partner and a once highly sought after manager during his spell at Gateshead, before his York City spell went sour and his rather disastrous few months in charge of Welsh minnows AFC Chester City.

Watson has hit the ground running at Darlo though, winning 7 of his 12 games in charge so far, rejuvenating the club in the process. Before he came in they looked more or less dead and buried but now with the players they’ve brought in and the momentum they have behind them, it’s highly likely they’ll end up beating the drop.

At the moment, Darlington’s biggest threats are all ex Blyth players! With 4 goals in 11 games (and an incredible assist XG apparently) is winger Matty Cornish – who featured for Spartans in the first half of the 2022/23 campaign.

A pacey winger who was always capable of cutting in and playing a killer ball in to a striker or having a go at goal, Cornish did well in his time in a green and white shirt, and probably deserved more of a chance at Spartans before he was loaned out to Morpeth last February. Though some might have felt he was better suited to the NPL, it’s safe to say he’s proving the doubters wrong at the moment.

If you ever got the chance to speak to Matty, you’ll know that he’s actually a brilliant bloke. He has a genuine appreciation for supporters and the time and money they put into following their teams, and he’s just all round good craic in general. Personally, I’m really pleased for the lad and the success he’s having this season. I just pray he has an off day if he features tomorrow.

January signing Cedric Main has also had a huge impact since he made the switch to Darlo for a rumoured £10,000 fee after York made him surplus to requirements.

Ced reportedly earned himself an 18 month contract, with a canny signing on fee and weekly wage that he certainly seems to be earning so far. Darlo fans have raved about him in recent weeks, as Ced continues to probably have the best season of his career so far.

Darlo also recently brought in Sunderland hot prospect Matty Young, who initially only came in to cover Tommy Taylor following an injury but has since usurped him as the club’s number one Goalkeeper. So far he’s kept a few clean sheets and impressed fans and pundits alike.

After appearing to struggle in opening few weeks of the season, Toby Lees has been putting in some impressive performances of late at the heart of the defence. A consistent performer throughout his time at Blyth, Toby seems to be recapturing his old form once again.

Elsewhere in the team, Will Hatfield will be a pain in the arse to deal with as always. While he’s starting to get on a bit these days, he’s still more than capable of running the show in midfield if we aren’t up for it. The other big threat will likely come from Midfielder/Forward Cameron Salkeld, whom Blyth apparently missed out on at one point last season. A rather versatile, quick and hard working player who’s a brilliant dribbler (not in the Hendy sense) he’ll need stopped.

Blyth Team News

As for Spartans, a reaction is needed after recent weeks. Thankfully some results went our way on Saturday gone which prevented us from sliding even further down the table.

JJ O’Donnell will of course be out injured, and I’m still none the wiser as to what’s happened with Oli Thompson but I hope he’s back soon, as we could use his width. Harry Arnison appears to be out of action due to injury as well, and Billy Gordon also appears to be missing. Thankfully though – Finn Cousin Dawson is back from suspension ahead of tomorrow.

The Line-up

In terms of how we’ll set up tomorrow, I kind of hope we move on from this 5-3-2/5-4-1 set up. We really need to go and have a fucking go at these tomorrow night.

Personally, I’d like to see a switch to a 4-3-3 with Harry Gardiner out on the left flank, which he has done at Sunderland in the past. He seems a little lightweight up front by himself at times, so giving him the freedom out on the wing to cut in and not have to deal with a big stiff CB would seem wise.

As for Hoop’s, he needs to start. When he’s on form and up for it, his positioning and composure are second to none. Luke James looked canny on Saturday and if he’s fit, he has to go in on that right flank.

A flat 3 in midfield with Hickey back in the starting XI would be preferred as well. Though one of the CM’s would obviously need to drop back into a holding role when required, especially if Lidz and Rhys are going to be allowed to bomb forward and create overlaps.

As for the defence, that picks itself.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I have played a lot of Football Manager lately.

Fan Info

Tomorrow’s game with Darlington will of course be segregated. Away fans will enter through the Plessey Road End as normal. For away fans, one turnstile will be open for pre purchased tickets and one will be open for card/cash payments. Around 500 away fans are expected tomorrow night.

Naturally a food van will be in the away section, but alcohol won’t be served and away fans are not allowed into the Clubhouse tomorrow night due to incidents in Darlington’s last 2 games. A heavy police and security presence will be in place tomorrow, and supporters may be searched at the gates.

As for Spartans fans, all the available turnstiles will be open at the Croftway End with card, cash and ticketed turnstiles all on. As ever we’d recommend buying tickets in advance, which you can do so here.

The new food van will be in it’s usual spot near the club store, and Pieface will be back in position selling the Shy’s Pie’s. I’d also expect the other food van in place, and probably some cakes getting selt near the gate.

The Clubhouse will be open from 5:30pm, and Blyth fans will still be allowed to take alcohol (bought from the clubhouse of course) inside the the ground.

Ref Watch

Tuesday’s referee is Darius Bradley, who is taking charge of only his 7th match of the season. He’s seemingly been refereeing at a lower level, and hasn’t managed to generate much of a name for himself just yet or garner any real criticism. I can’t really find anything that interesting to say about him in all honesty.

Betting Preview

Somehow despite both sides form, we’re still the favourites with the bookies ahead of tomorrow. Both teams will be dying for a win, so it’ll either be a cagey affair or an all out back and forth goal fest. Personally, I hope it’s the latter.

Admittedly, I can see things going Darlo’s way tomorrow. The momentum is totally in their favour at the moment despite getting beat 2-1 away at Spennymoor on Saturday.

As we always seem to get beat by these, a 2-1 Darlington win with both Main and Cornish scoring just seems to be written in the stars.