FOR Blyth Spartans FC manager Mick Tait this week will be about what he calls ‘body management’.
But with Spartans due to play Redditch in the Blue Square Bet North at home on Tuesday, and then the FA Trophy quarter-final tie with rivals Gateshead on Saturday, Tait was dealt a ‘body blow’ when midfielder Michael Tait was injured during the win over Hinckley.
He is likely to be out for at least two weeks with a hamstring problem.
Speaking before Tuesday night’s league game, Tait said: “Losing Michael is a massive blow and I will have to look carefully at what team I put out Tuesday, taking into account the game against Gateshead.”
Before that, however, Tait reflected on a convincing 4-0 home victory over Hinckley. Although it did not look to be going that way at half-time.
The scenario was not equal to the one at St James’ Park recently when Newcastle were 4-0 down to Arsenal at the break only to come back and snatch an unlikely draw, but spectators at Croft Park on Saturday may have harboured similarly low optimism levels after 45 minutes during which the home side huffed and puffed.
But in the second period they blew Hinckley’s house down with devastating force.
Tait explained his side’s slow start: “I knew Hinckley were in a rich vein of form so we went out with a safety first attitude.
“We’d all spoken about where they were dangerous and we planned to nullify the threat from their front two and then press on later in the game.
“We needed to play midfielder Neal Hooks a bit deeper than usual to stop them getting balls in to the forwards’ feet.
“We managed to force them to play high balls in and Chris Swailes and Wayne Buchanan were able to cope with that.”
Hinckley had the upper hand from the start and Dan Lowson in the Blyth goal made three excellent saves.
“I was reasonably happy to go in at half-time at no score,” said Tait.
“We knew we could step up the pace and start to play better football even though the pitch was claggy.
“We talked about taking the shackles off in the second period and we did just that and were immediately rewarded when John Alexander put us ahead within a minute.”
Thereafter Blyth were, in Tait’s words, ‘scintillating’.
“That goal let us loose, you could see the release throughout the team,” he added.
Fifteen minutes in to the second half man of the match Michael Tait coolly held on the ball and, seemingly through intuition, sensing full back Dan Groves’ audacious overlap, cunningly lifted the ball over the Hinckley defence for the 19 year old to run on to and deftly flick the ball home.
Tait then withdrew Alexander and replaced him with the on loan Josh Gray.
“John has had an appendix out recently and, on top of a knee injury, I thought I’d save his legs as, after all, he’d given us a good hour,” he explained.
Blyth added another two goals within minutes.
The Blyth boss was relieved after the game to find out that a blow to keeper Lowson’s elbow does not appear to be serious.
However on top of Michael Tait’s loss star striker Paul Brayson, who missed the Hinckley game, is still struggling with a thigh injury although he may be fit for the Redditch game on Tuesday.
Tait said: “It’s not a matter of putting the Trophy ahead of the league, it’s just managing the situation so we have enough bodies for Saturday.”
Looking ahead to the weekend’s huge encounter Tait said: “Losing Michael has certainly made things more difficult.
“He and Hooks in the middle of the park have been excellent for us this season.
“Those two along with Nicky Deverdics in front of them have been the heart beat of the team, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
As for the Spartans’ chances against their Conference premier opponents, Tait said: “Ask any of our lads and they’ll say we have every chance, and that goes for me too.
“We are the underdogs but we do have players who could play at a higher level and we’ll go into the game with great confidence.
“I’ve seen Gateshead and know how they play. I don’t expect them to change much against us, and they’ll be confident on the back of a good run.
“But were not so interested in what they do. At half-time on Saturday someone came in to our dressing room and said Gateshead were 5-1 up at Wrexham. My players simply looked up and said ‘So what?’.”
It is that kind of focus and self belief that Blyth will take into their biggest game for some seasons.
Fans should note the crowd will be segregated with away fans in the Plessey Road end and home supporters entering Croft Park from the Kingsway end.