At 6.15pm last night, the man from Radio Five Live made one final enquiry of a Blyth official. Would it be possible for their manager, Tom Wade, to appear on the Breakfast show early on Sunday morning? In an attempt to help their cause, he would only have to go on after eight o’clock.
It was a big ask, because Tom Wade should have been glorying in a bar – possibly the one run by Robbie Dale, his goalscoring forward. The Blyth manager will do well to recreate anything like the day his Northern Premier side scared the life out of one from the Championship.
He had said it was an outside chance that his side carried into their seventh FA Cup tie of the season, in the third round proper, against Birmingham. He fell way short there, for his outstanding players could so easily be preparing for a fourth round FA Cup tie, such was their bravery, their talent and ambition.
Do not listen to those who keep telling you the magic of the FA Cup has gone, it is a tired old cliché pedalled by those who look at the teams picked by bloated outfits in the top two division who refuse to look beyond balance sheets. Gary Rowett did that yesterday. The Birmingham manager changed 10 players from the side that had won their previous game against Nottingham Forest.
For 45 minutes it looked like suicide. Blyth were everything and everywhere. In the 35th minute Jarrett Rivers took a pass from Jordan Watson and sent a low cross into the heart of the Birmingham six yard area that Dale smashed into the visitors’ goal.
The excitement it caused had barely subsided when the same player took a short free-kick from Stephen Turnbull. The 30-year-old Dale, on the angle of the Birmingham penalty area, went past two players and curled a right-footed shot into the bottom corner of Colin Doyle’s goal. It felt like a top 50 FA Cup moment was happening in front of your eyes. At half-time Luis Figo starting following Blyth Spartans on Twitter.
Only in a destructive six-minute spell after the break did Birmingham look like a team from five divisions higher. Lee Novaks smashed a shot past Peter Jeffries, and with wind in previously deflated sails, Wesley Thomas first scored with a low drive past the Blyth keeper before heading in a Mark Duffy cross. In the 51st minute Blyth were 2-0 up. By the 59th minute they were 3-2 down.
“The team were a little bit quiet at half-time and at that point I was a bit worried that we might not show the relevant character in the second half,” said Rowett. “I said to them at half-time, ‘There’s a thousand amazing Birmingham fans in the away end’ and I just wanted them to go home with something to be pleased about. You just hoped that the players can respond.
“I just thought it was a brilliant afternoon. I might not stay up and watch it on Match of the Day later – I don’t think I can put myself through it again. But that’s what the Cup is about. I played in the Leicester side that lost to Wycombe, and a guy, Roy Essandoh, signed from Telextext, scored the winner. And that was a League Two side knocking a Premier League side out.
“So we have seen how it works and at Burton we have been on the other foot plenty of times, so we wouldn’t have complained but I am very, very pleased we are in the next round.”
Wade was wondering ‘what if?’. He said: “If you’d said before the game we’d get beaten 3-2, you might have taken that but I think we deserved to win it. They had 10 minutes of total dominance which killed it. You get to 2-0 at half-time and you think the shock is on. The instruction at half-time was keep it tight for 10 or 15 minutes. That didn’t work out.”
They did rally late. Dale shot wide, Danny Parker headed into the side netting and Danny Maguire shot over. It would not be a victory to take Blyth into the fourth round and near matching the achievements of the 78 side that famously reached the fifth round. But there were still brilliant moments to savour, wherever you looked.
Blyth (4-2-3-1): Jeffries; Dixon (Nicholson, 90), Buddle, Hutchinson (Parker, 86), Watson; Turnbull, Mullen (Richardson, 66); Dale, Hawkins, Rivers; Maguire.
Birmingham (4-4-2): Doyle; Eardley, Morrison, Edgar, Hancox; Novak, Moussi, Reilly, Duffy (Arthur, 82); Zigic, Thomas.
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the match: Dale (Blyth Spartans)
Match rating: 8/10Reuse content