Asked if he views the forthcoming football season with any trepidation new Blyth Spartans boss Mick Tait is unequivocal.
“I have no fear whatsoever” he responds in his quiet yet purposeful way.
Bearing in mind the Spartans have lost central defender, and star of the FA Cup run last year, Richard Pell and failed to secure the free scoring Paul Brayson Tait’s sanguine attitude is perhaps surprising to some but when he argues the case it is easy to be won over.
“Yes we lost Pell, who had to move out of the area with his work, and Brayson was a target of ours but we’ve been able to bring in some quality and have lots of options in terms of positions and formations” he said.
Added to that Tait has been pleased with the pre –season despite only having won won one of the eight played to date.“Although no-one hates losing as much as me, and some of the lads were getting a bit down about it, I don’t really care about the results at this time of year. Pre-season is about fitness and formations, working out who is best in each position, and a chance to look at trialists. Our games have given me the opportunity to do just that and it’s interesting that not many of the trialists have been retained as they were no better than what we had already.”
Even the 2-1 defeat at Berwick Rangers which saw Blyth play half the match with 10 men following Chris McCabe’s dismissal was a useful exercise in Tait’s eyes.
“Yes it was a valuable experience in terms of how we could play in such circumstances in a League game as we don’t have the bodies to replicate it in training. So even that defeat had a positive aspect,” he suggested.
Tait is delighted to have brought in experienced and quality defenders in Darren Craddock and former Durham City captain Stephen Harrison while Stephen Turnbull, signed from Gateshead, has shone in the friendlies. Despite missing out on Brayson, who chose to join Durham, Tait is optimistic that goals will come from across his team.
“We may not have a 25 goal a season man on our books but Shaun Raey will score as will new comers Ian Graham, John Alexander and Josh Gillies while Robbie Dale, Chris McCabe, Michael Tait and Gareth Williams will chip in too so I’m not that worried” he said. “Graham, Alexander and Gillies have come to us from lower Leagues but they have been at professional clubs so they know what the game’s about and they’ll adapt. I’m giving them another chance to perform at a higher level and it is up to them to grab that opportunity.”
Tait, who succeeded Harry Dunn as Blyth manger at the end of last season, also thinks he can get the best out of the paradox which is Robbie Dale. “I’ve had a chat with him and we will be playing him wide on the left this season. He doesn’t like playing as an out and out centre forward even though he is six feet plus. That’s not his strength. I told him I’m not going to ask him to do something he’s not happy with. He’s much more effective on the left where he certainly does catch the eye. Opposition players look at him and think he can’t run or dribble but he is deceptively quick, he sucks in defenders, puts the ball past them then he’s off and they can’t catch him.”
The omens are good for Tait’s expectations of Dale as he has performed with great skill, appliance and responsibility in the pre-season matches.
Although clearly confident about the season ahead there is no way Tait is going to be carried away.“I know it may take a little while for what is effectively a new side to find its feet. This doesn’t happen overnight, or if it does you’re lucky!” he suggested “Normally it needs hard work.”
The Spartans face a tough challenge in the opening League game this Saturday when they travel to AFC Telford – one of the favourites for promotion, and then host another highly regarded side in Southport on August 11th. Tait, meanwhile, also has his eyes on some other sides which might do well. “I know a lot of the ex-pros who are coming into the Blue Square North and that will help when we take on some teams. Certainly Alfreton and Gainsboruogh, if you just take two, have really strengthened.”
Blyth will be without Craddock for the first three games of the season as he taking a holiday which was booked before he signed for Blyth.
The club have made it clear to the new Manager that the performance in the League must improve. “I accept that” Tait said “we must do better and ideally I’d like to finish in the top half of the table and any FA Cup run will be bonus.” With Tait’s experience as a player and manager at clubs such as Darlington and Hartlepool married to his assistant, Adam Saddler’s background at Manchester United and as Newcastle’s reserve team manager, there is a sense of hushed optimism around Croft Park that reflects that the manager.