It’s the tie of the round, as in-form Wrexham face a tricky journey to meet an old foe.
Wrexham versus Blyth Spartans is a fixture which encapsulates the magic of the cup and brings back memories of a golden age when the tournament was a priority of the big sides and followed around the world.
Much has changed since the sides’ storied clash in 1978, but the possibility of a giant-killing which will be remembered well into the future surrounds this intriguing tie.
Saturday's game takes place at Croft Park and kicks off at 1pm.
Listen the the game LIVE and FREE on Wrexham Player. Here's how:
Wrexham are second in the National League, of course, but it's not just their form which makes them a major scalp in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round. The global attention "Welcome to Wrexham" has generated means any game involving the Red Dragons will be followed with interest across the world. A shock defeat for Phil Parkinson's side against a lower division team would really generate some headlines!
Blyth Spartans are a division below Wrexham, in the National League North, and the romance of this tie is enhanced by their struggles in the league this season: with just two league wins under their belts, they occupy a relegation spot, four places from the bottom of the table.
Furthermore, they haven't won a league game since August, and are equal-lowest scorers in the division. Yet they got to this stage with an impressive win at Chorley, who are comfortably mid-table, seven places above them. And anyway, giant-killing runs in the veins of the Spartans.
Spartans had a tough time recruiting their squad in the Summer and after opening the season with a gutsy 1-0 defeat to Kidderminster Harriers they lost their manager.
Terry Mitchell departed and was replaced by Graham Fenton. Fenton, who played for and was caretaker manager of Blyth in a spell at the club which ended in 2009, had previously enjoyed terrific success as manager of both North and South Shields.
In ten years at the neighbouring clubs he managed three promotions and five cup wins, including two FA Vase victories at Wembley. He nearly managed three promotions in a row with South Shields, but was thwarted by play-off defeat, and the following season he was cruelly denied again, when COVID-19 halted the season with his club 12 points clear at the top of the table with nine games left.
Wrexham come into the game off the back of that remarkable 7-5 win over Barnet. Elliot Lee's virtuoso performance behind the strikers caught the attention, and he'll hope to hold onto his place regardless of whether Jordan Davies is fit enough to return.
Elsewhere in the team, it was good to see Bryce Hosannah return from injury for the last quarter of an hour of the match, increasing Parkinson's options for a match which might see some rotation of the squad.
Meanwhile, Spartans played out a home draw against high-flying Banbury last Saturday. Michael Richardson gave the home side the lead just after the break, but a 70th minute penalty allowed the third-placed visitors to emerge with a point.
Here's what the gaffer thinks about the tie:
WREXHAM'S RECORD AGAINST BLYTH SPARTANS
Enjoy the drama of our famous 1978 clash in "Wrexham's Greatest Games":
This is a fixture redolent of past glories, as memories of two great FA Cup stories are rekindled.
Wrexham’s stellar 1977-78 FA Cup is the stuff of club legend, as we reached the last eight of the competition, to match a run to the same stage of the League Cup that season. Those remarkable jousts at serious silverware were accompanied by a Welsh Cup triumph and the Third Division championship, which meant we’d play the next season at the highest level the club has ever reached.
However, to get to the last eight we had to get past Blyth Spartans of the Northern League, whose run in the FA Cup was perhaps even more remarkable.
They had to battle their way through five local derbies across four qualifying rounds, just to get through to the first round, and disposed of Chesterfield to chalk up their first league scalp of the campaign.
That tally was doubled in spectacular fashion when they beat Stoke City 3-2 on their own patch, and excitement at Croft Park went through the roof when the draw paired them with either local giants Newcastle United or Wrexham.
|Learn more about Blyth's remarkable FA Cup adventure at the excellent Blyth Spirit blog.|
However, Arfon Griffiths' side spoilt the party by knocking out the Magpies to set up a battle of the giant-killers.
The game lived up to that epic billing: Spartans survived an early storm and then took the lead before the break when Alan Hill's under-hit back pass was intercepted by goal machine Terry Johnson, who slotted his sixth goal of the run past Eddie Niedzwiecki.
Wrexham piled on the pressure in the second half but a combination of magnificent defending, poor finishing and a fine display by Dave Clarke in Blyth's goal denied them. Spartans' Steve Carney and Wrexham substitute John Lyons both received red cards as the tension of the tie boiled over, but the true drama was yet to come.
With a minute to go, Wrexham were awarded a corner, although the ball clearly came off Bobby Shinton last. Les Cartwright's effort was punched behind by Clarke for another corner, but referee Alf Grey's attention had now been drawn to the corner flag, which was flat on the ground. Declaring that the ball was dead if the flag was not in place he put it back and invited Cartwright to deliver again. This corner was caught cleanly by Clarke, but the flag had fallen again, so Grey insisted Cartwright should take a third stab at delivering the ball. This time he got it right: his cross soared beyond Clarke to the far post, where Dixie McNeil nodded home from close range.
Grey admitted his error after the match, to his credit, but it was too late to affect matters: a replay was required to separate the teams.
North-eastern pride had been kindled by the Spartans' magnificent advanture, and an incredible crowd gathered for the replay, the interest in the match having necessitated a change of venue to Newcastle's St James Park. The crowd of 42,267 was in the top five Wrexham attendances of all time until the FA Trophy Final at Wembley last May overtook it.
Once again, Grey would turn out to be no friend of Blyth. He awarded a very generous penalty to Wrexham after a challenge in the box on McNeil. Graham Whittle stepped up and slammed the ball emphatically home to open the scoring.
McNeil doubled the lead before the break with a tremendous strike, but Spartans pushed hard to find a way back into the game. Johnson struck again with eight minutes left. There would be no last ditch heroics though, and it was Wrexham who went on to play a home quarter final against Arsenal.
Wrexham and Blyth Spartans actually met twice more in 1978. The Debenhams Cup was a peculiar, short-lived competition which brought together the two sides outside the top two divisions who got furthest in the previous season's FA Cup. Obviously, on this occasion, it was the two sides who clashed in the fifth round!
The previous year was the first time the trophy was played for, and Chester City overturned a 2-0 first leg loss at Part Vale to lift the trophy with a 4-3 aggregate win.
A year later the clubs couldn't agree when to play for the cup. Blyth were keen to play immediately after the end of the season, but Wrexham had major reservations. They'd finished their triumphant 66-match season with a remarkably packed schedule, playing the final four games in nine days. The first game against Blyth had been the beginning of a sequence of 25 matches in 78 days to conclude the campaign.
Furthermore, Dai Davies, Gareth Davies, Mickey Thomas and Les Cartwright were absent on international duty, playing in the home internationals for Wales. The Spartans could not be moved on the date, though, so four days after the season ended with victory in the Welsh Cup final over Bangor City, Wrexham fielded a weakened side.
Centre back John Roberts played up front, with left back Alan Dwyer reverting to his original position on the wing, for the first leg at The Racecourse. At the back were Tony Larkin, whose efforts in these games would be the only time he'd represent the Wrexham first team, and Steve Kenworthy who made his first team debut in the dead rubber final league match of the season. Six players remained from the Bangor match, and only three of them were playing in their usual position!
Wrexham lost the match 2-1, and drew the away leg 1-1. Their lack of enthusiasm for the matches was illustrated when they had to be recalled from the changing room to receive their losers' medals, having walked straight off the pitch after shaking hands at the final whistle!
This was to prove to be the final Debenhams Cup match, as the tournament was never played again.
That might have been the most famous clash between Wrexham amd Blyth Spartans, but we've actually met in the FA Cup on two earlier occasions.
In 1959 Wrexham were struggling in the league, but imposed themselves in the opening period. Ron Hewitt proftted from good work by Don Weston to open the scoring, and the home side ought to have widened their lead before the break, missing two one-on-one chances.
The second half was very different as Spartans took control of the match. However, they couldn't force the ball past Roly Ugolini in the Wrexham goal, and in the 83rd minute Hewitt pounced on an error to wrap up the scoring.
Our first meeting was a first round tie in 1936. Wrexham were hampered by an early injury to Harold Lapham, who left the field for ten minutes after a collision with the Blyth goalkeeper and, because there were no substitutes in those days, returned to the pitch as a virtual passenger to make up the numbers.
Blyth made a series of chances, and were caught offside a number of times in the first half. They hit the post too, but Wrexham grew into the game and got to the break with a clean sheet.
The home side continued to dominate in second half, hitting the post on two more occasions while the crowd grew angry over further tight offside decisions. Imagine their fury, then, when Ron Jones scored against the run of play with a shot past the unsighted keeper.
The final blow was struck in the closing moments when Archie Burgon made it 2-0.
The match will be broadcast in the United States on ESPN2 and ESPN+, with the show starting 30 minutes before kick-off.
In the event of a draw, there will be a replay on Tuesday October 18 at the Racecourse Ground. There will be no extra time or penalties at Saturday's game.
Should there be a need for a replay, tickets will go on sale on Saturday night at 6pm to season-ticket holders. Season-ticket holders' priority window will last until Sunday night at 6pm, when tickets go on sale to members.
The members' priority window will last 24 hours, and all remaining tickets will go on general sale at 6pm on Monday (October 17). Tickets will cost £12 for adults and £7 for concessions in line with the prices for the original tie.
Please note, the Club Shop will not be open on Saturday night or Sunday, so please ensure your eTicketing website is set up in advance.
Jordan Davies' 100th Wrexham appearance.