Match fitness in pre-season main concern for managers

ASHINGTON CFC will face Blyth Spartans at Woodhorn Lane on Tuesday, July 17, in their third scheduled warm-up game with a positive message from manager Gary Middleton ringing in their ears.

The boss stresses that pre-season friendlies are centred on players attaining match fitness and management looking at different playing formations.

But he will also be looking for his squad to “give a good performance” in front of what should be a bumper crowd when they face their local rivals.

Middleton said: “It’ll be nice for us to host such a team as Blyth Spartans, but first and foremost, these matches are all about getting the players prepared for our first match proper, which will be in the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup against Sunderland RCA on August 11.

“I’m anticipating a good turnout from both sets of supporters and hoping that we can give a good performance.

“Certainly the lads are all looking forward to it.”

Blyth boss Tommy Cassidy has stuck to his tried and tested policy with regards to pre-season training and believes with that in mind, the ‘derby’ could come too early.

“Ever since I was in charge of my first non league club at Gateshead, I’ve adopted a policy where I ask my players to report for pre-season training four weeks before the official kick-off,” said Cassidy.

“I’m a great believer in this because I want them to peak for their first competitive match.

“The lads had their first session last Thursday and will have had five under their belts prior to the Ashington game, so they could be a little short on fitness, but the friendly will lend itself to being a hard training exercise in any case.”

The encounter will also give Cassidy the opportunity to look at prospective newcomers.

He added: “I have lost seven players – some of whom I didn’t want to leave,.

“Losing that amount in one go is very difficult and I reckon I need to recruit at least another two or three.”

Cassidy’s philosophy on friendlies is virtually a mirror image of Middleton’s.

“Warm-up games are all about getting the lads fit but they also serve a great purpose in giving managers a chance to look at different players,” he said.

Meanwhile the clash will see the returning Robbie Dale back in a Spartans shirt following his move back along the coast from neighbours Whitley Bay.

Cassidy said: “Robbie will be in the squad and will feature – hopefully playing an important part.”

Ashington have announced that admission prices for the clash will be £4 for adults and £1 for concessions – a reduction of a third on their 2012-13 admission charges – with the game kicking off at 7pm.

The injury to Jonny Godsmark apart, Middleton was pleased with his side’s performance in their opening warm-up match on Saturday, despite a 2-0 reverse at Heaton Stannington.

He said: “I thought we played well throughout and I can’t remember our keeper Karl Dryden having to make a save.

“Heaton scored from their first attempt, which was a well taken free kick, and it left us chasing the game, but I thought we played some good football.”

The boss was delighted with his trio of new signings – Gareth Williams, Phil Cave and Paul Antony:

“Williams is a great addition – he brings composure and experience and is also a good communicator,” he said.

“Cave slotted in well in a role similar to Darren Lough and can create things down the left whilst Paul Antony looks good in the middle of the park.

“He’s good on the ball and wants to get on the ball, and that’s why we brought him in.

“I was disappointed that we didn’t win the game but these matches are all about looking at players and systems – and nothing is won pre-season.”

Heaton Stannington – Pinpoint Recruitment Northern Alliance premier division champions last season – took the lead midway through the first half with a superb free kick by Lee Johnson.

Then in the dying seconds, Jonathan Wright forced home the second from the rebound after his penalty had been blocked by Karl Dryden.