IT may prove more straightforward than even their past two meetings, but Phil Turnbull insists Gateshead against Blyth Spartans – in any format – remains a “big fixture with big rivalry”.
Croft Park plays host to the Tynesiders today (3pm) as both continue their pre-season plans.
But while Gateshead’s full-time professionals warmed up with a 1-0 win over Conference National champions Fleetwood Town in midweek, Spartans manager Tommy Cassidy may be forced to use the game to trial a number of youngsters.
Gateshead have won the last two encounters, in the FA Trophy and FA Cup, more comfortably than the 2-0 scorelines would suggest, and this afternoon’s test could follow a similar path.
But with long-standing rivalry and bragging rights at stake, visiting midfielder Turnbull – who played 12 loan games for Blyth in 2007 – insists it will not be easy.
“It’s a big fixture whenever you play Blyth,” said Turnbull.
“It always is, especially for the fans. On Twitter and Facebook the fans are always hammering each other, so even though it’s only a friendly it’s important we put on a good show and get a result.
“I know they’ve gone massively back-over in the last couple of years but it’s still a big rivalry.
“You’re coming up against local lads, lads you probably know. They’ll all be up for it, so will we. It’s got the makings of a great game.”
It may have, but Blyth’s troubles are such that with Cassidy struggling to attract players to the club, the game could be more of a trial from Blyth’s point of view.
“From the team that finished last season, we’ve lost eight or nine players – show me who else has had to deal with something like that,” he said.
“I’ve tried to bring experience in but it’s not easy. The likes of Wayne Buchanan and Carl Jones have re-signed, but I need more than that.
“I wanted people like Wayne Phillips, Dan Groves and David Knight to stay, but I can’t blame them for going elsewhere.
“Now I have to start again, which isn’t ideal. By now you’d like to be playing games to give your first team match fitness, but I’m going to have to use this one as a bit of a trial game because I need to see some of the young lads knocking on the door.”