Unibond League/fa Cup Preliminary Round

After easing recent financial problems Blyth Spartans have made a terrific start to the season, writes CHRIS FOOTE WOOD.

After easing recent financial problems Blyth Spartans have made a terrific start to the season, writes CHRIS FOOTE WOOD.

Three wins and a draw put Blyth in joint second place in the UniBond League Premier Division, two points behind leaders Lancaster City.

Spartans should extend their unbeaten run away to lowly Bradford Park Avenue this afternoon. The Yorkshire side have just one point from their four games.

Defender Graham Pepper returns for Blyth after missing Monday's 2-1 derby win over Bishop Auckland, to bring the squad up to full strength.

"I am really chuffed at the way the team has started," said secretary Joe Hobin. "Everyone is optimistic about our prospects."

Unbeaten Gateshead, with three wins from their opening four games, are unchanged for the visit of pointless Frickley at the International Stadium this afternoon. Ex-Darlington striker Robbie Painter has a slight calf injury but is expected to play.

"We've got the spine of a good team," said player-manager Paul Proudlock. "And with a couple of additions to the squad can continue to push at the top of the table.

"But we must apply ourselves against Frickley who will attempt to raise their game and are a potential banana skin."

Central defender Rob Jones has been handed a three-match ban for his red card against Blyth and winger Phil Ross is expected to suffer a similar fate for his dismissal in Monday's 2-0 win over Emley.

Bishop Auckland, with three wins from four games, travel to mid-table Emley. Keeper David Campbell is fit after stitches in his ear - for an injury sustained at Blyth. Forward Danny Brunskill is free from suspension for Bishops, who miss midfielder David Bayles, Monday's emergency keeper, who is unavailable.

After a fine start in Division One with three wins out of four, Spennymoor are engaged in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup at home to Manchester side Mossley of the North West Counties League. Chris Errington, signed from Prudhoe Town, makes his debut in goal for Moors in place of the injured Stuart Dawson. Midfielder Mark Taylor, injured in Saturday's 2-1 league win over Lincoln United, has a punctured lung and will be out until after Christmas, but centre-forward Lee Adamson returns.

Gretna are also in FA Cup action, at Cheshire side Woodley Sports.

vTHERE is more than pride at stake in today's FA Cup Preliminary Round derby between Newcastle Blue Star and Whitley Bay. As well as a place in the next round, the FA's prize fund means a cash reward of £1,000 to the winners.

"There's a lot more to play for. The grassroots are now getting their share of the money in the game, and rightly so," said Blue Star manager Stuart Leeming who lacks defenders Chris Holmes and David Redhead with ligament injuries. Bay, unbeaten in the league, hope for the return of defender Steve Locker. Striker Andy Hay has a fitness test.

Among six all-Albany Northern League ties, First Division leaders Durham City visit Second Division Willington, Brandon United are at Division One rivals Seaham Red Star, and Tow Law Town are at Billingham Synthonia.

League champions Bedlington Terriers are without both central defenders at UniBond League Division One side Ossett Albion. Craig Melrose awaits a cartilage operation, Martin Kirkby is at a wedding.

Terriers draft Dean Gibb in to make up a likely back four with Warren Teasdale, Jim Harmison and Paul Hildreth. Last season Terriers won 4-3 at Ossett in the second round of the FA Vase, a game fondly remembered by both sides. "It was a fabulous game, even though we lost, and we are looking forward to meeting Bedlington again," said Ossett manager Eric Gilchrist.

Morpeth travel to Lincolnshire to play Brigg Town of the Northern Counties East League. Chester-le-Street visit Yorkshire side Eccleshill United, while South Shields are at Selby Town, also of the NCEL. Consett visit Kendal of the UBL First Division, and Dunston Federation are at Sheffield. Ashington are in Lancashire to play Warrington Town of the North West Counties League.

In the ANL Division Two Alnwick are at Washington Nissan, while Whickham switch their home fixture with Norton to Teesside as their own ground is required for cricket.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer