BLYTH Spartans manager Steve Cuggy has wasted no time in beginning to put his own stamp on his squad for the 2011-12 Blue Square Bet North season.
The new boss has moved quickly to offset the disappointing loss of last season’s leading scorer Paul Brayson to Harrogate Town by making four new signings.
With former Newcastle United striker Brayson heading to North Yorkshire, Cuggy has brought two players in the opposite direction.
Striker Graeme Armstrong, a long time target of Spartans has moved to Croft Park following a hugely successful season at Blue Square Bet North rivals Harrogate.
The 27-year-old spent the formative years of his career in Scotland with Queen of the South and Annan Athletic before moving to the Northern League side Dunston Fed and then onto Gateshead.
Armstrong enjoyed a prolific spell at the International Stadium and was only released as his career as a teacher prevented him from going full-time.
He moved to Harrogate at the start of last season and went onto score 23 goals – 22 in the league.
A delighted Cuggy said “I’m really pleased to get a player of Graeme’s calibre on board, it sends out a positive message to the supporters of the club that Gavin [Fell] and I are determined to bring the best players possible to Croft Park, but it also sends the right message to the players that we are looking to go in the right direction.
“Graeme is a good age, has experience of the league, has an excellent character and temperament and I am delighted he’s signed for Blyth Spartans.”
The player was also delighted to have signed.
He said: “It’s an excellent club and it is great to have finally got things sorted.
“I know several of the lads already here and can’t wait for the season to get started”.
And Armstrong’s team-mate of last season, Wayne Phillips, has also signed for Blyth.
Phillips is no stranger to Croft Park, having made his senior football debut for the Spartans as a teenager against Hucknall Town in 2003.
The 25-year-old had enjoyed a few seasons with Blyth before
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moving onto Whitley Bay and Gateshead – scoring the winning goal for the Tynesiders which saw them promoted to the Blue Square National.
Following his release from Gateshead he was snapped up by Harrogate Town where he enjoyed a successful season providing ammunition for other new signing Armstrong.
Speaking on his return, the winger said: “It’s great to be back, I really enjoyed my first spell at the club and I had no hesitation in returning.
“I’ve had plenty of stick on my return visits to the club, so it’ll be nice to have the crowd supporting me rather than against me.
“I also know quite a few of the lads already and have obviously played against the others, so it shouldn’t take me too long to settle back in.”
Cuggy added: “Wayne is a superb signing - he’ll bring flair, pace and creativity and hopefully get amongst the goals as well.
“Everything has gone well so far on the signing front, probably better than I expected and Wayne is another example of this.”
Closer to home, Spartans have snapped up 24-year-old Liam Atkin from Ashington.
The former Newcastle United player has already made one appearance for the Spartans, featuring for Harry Dunn in a Northumberland Senior Cup match against Ashington in 2007.
The Blyth boss said: “We are pleased to get Liam on board, we watched him several times last year and he is an excellent footballer, but he also has a bit of steel.
“We have also spoken to a lot of people who know him well and they are all confident that he’ll be able to make the step up and flourish at this level.
“He’s clearly got a lot of potential and could be a very useful signing.”
Spartans’ fourth new signing of the off-season is 26-year-old attacking midfielder Chris Emms.
He started his career at Middlesbrough and has since played for Billingham Town, Gateshead, Spennymoor Town, ECU Joondalup (Australia) and Harrogate Town.
Last season he was a member of the Spennymoor side that swept to the STL Northern League title.
Further good news for the Croft Park faithful has come with decision by Dan Groves, 20, and Neal Hooks, 23, to sign new deals.
But along with the departure of Brayson, Spartans have also lost assistant manager Chris Swailes.
Signed at the start of last season, the 40-year-old was a mainstay in the defence, featuring in virtually every match and his level of performance in a green and white shirt saw him pick up the Drager Player of the Season.
In all the central defender was involved in 48 of the 50 games that the Spartans played in last season - notching two goals in the process.
Also leaving Croft Park is LIam O’Mahoney, who has relocated to Yorkshire.
After only two weeks in the job, new manager Cuggy still has some of the current squad to speak with.
“I have spoken to the majority of the lads from the current squad and know a few of the lads are still are on holiday and I will speak to them when they return, but everything is going well at the minute.”