THE magic of the FA Cup returns to the Turnbull Ground on Saturday, writes Andrew Snaith.
It’s the penultimate qualifying round and old rivals Blyth Spartans are in town, hoping to take the £7,500 prize money and go one win away from the first round proper.
It’s just over 47 years since Jimmy Mulvaney netted twice in a 3-2 Hallowe’en success for the Blues on the two clubs’ first ever meeting.
Since then, the Seasiders have won another 38 times, including a seven-year run of just two losses in 17 games.
Town lead 39-37 overall, but Steve Cuggy’s Spartans are a division ahead of Whitby these days, plying their trade in the Blue Square North, but like Whitby, find themselves third from bottom.
However, Bradford City defender Adam Robinson and Harrogate Town midfielder Michael Tait have arrived at Croft Park on month-long deals this week to help out the injury-hit Northumberland outfit, who despatched Northern League neighbours Bedlington Terriers in the last round.
The Blues have just one win at home this season, which came against North Ferriby United to set up this tie, while Blyth have yet to triumph on their travels.
Whitby manager Tommy Cassidy thinks his side has a chance, but only with a big improvement at the back after shipping 10 goals in three games.
He told the Whitby Gazette: “If we can cut out the individual mistakes, silly silly defensive errors this season, we’ll be a better team.
“We want to go out and show what we did second half (against Worksop in midweek), when we matched them for desire and hunger.
“If we can do that against Blyth Spartans then yes we’ve got a chance, if we go out like we did first half, defend badly, not work hard enough, not close down, not doing the things you should do in football, then we’ll get beaten.”
The former Gateshead boss, who should have a full squad to choose from, with Sam Hodgson (calf), Dave McTiernan (groin) and Kev Burgess (back) expected to shake off minor injuries, was furious after Wednesday’s 4-3 defeat.
“I’ll defend the players in many ways, but they need to stand up and be counted and some don’t do that.
“Some of the performances have been suicidal, with junior mistakes, not picking up, not marking properly, not concentrating and paying the penalty for it.
“Of course, the manager takes the blame and I wholeheartedly accept that, as that’s football, but what I can’t get my head around is the individual mistakes. Unless it stops, we’re going to struggle badly.”
If the Blues are successful, it’d be their first appearance in the fourth qualifying round since Harry Dunn’s first spell in charge at the Turnbull Ground. On that occasion, Dunn’s Town overcame Bromsgrove Rovers, before losing out at Hartlepool United in the first round.
Dunn also steered Whitby to replay defeats at league clubs Hull City in 1996 and Plymouth Argyle in 2001.
But it was as manager of Blyth that Dunn reached the holy grail of the third round for the first time in his managerial career - future Whitby player Ged Dalton’s goal saw off Bournemouth 1-0 in the second stage of 2008, after defeating Shrewsbury Town in the first, 3-1.
Dunn’s men finally lost out by a single strike to Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn Rovers- ironically they saw off Whitby in the second qualifying round after a replay- the two teams’ last meeting.
Defender Andy Leeson is set to line up against his former club - the defender netted against Shrewsbury and made more than 300 appearances for the Green and Whites before joining the Seasiders in 2009.
Cassidy is hoping he and his team-mates can rise to the occasion, using Wednesday’s belated improvement as inspiration.
He added: “We’ve got to have a continuation of that second half performance, give Blyth a fright and give them a game.”
Kick-off at the Turnbull Ground is 3pm with admission £8 adults, £5 concessions and £2 under 16s. If the scores finish level, there’ll be a replay at Spartans’ Croft Park on Tuesday night with a 7.45pm kick-off.