HAZLERIGG VICTORY boss Mark Bullock feels his side are big underdogs going into the Northumberland FA Minor Cup Final against Grainger Park despite this being their second appearance at Blue Flames in three seasons.

The Northern Alliance Second Division outfit took Newcastle University to extra time before eventually going down 2-1 in the dying minutes of 2015 Final despite being down to nine men from the 65th minute mark and he admits that it is a massive achievement for his Saturday side formed just four years ago to be gunning for the silverware again.

“It’s quite incredible!” says Bullock.

“The Minor Cup is the biggest Competition we’ve played in as a club to date, and arguably the biggest we'll ever play in. We’re a small mining village and there are established clubs in Wideopen, Seaton Burn, New Fordley, Gosforth Bohemians, Red House Farm and Ponteland United all nearby, so for us to be able to put aside together capable of getting to the Final twice has been something special.”

Victory exploded onto the local football scene and won the Tyneside Amateur Division Two and John Hampson Memorial Trophy in their first season, completing the treble in their second season before making the move up into the Alliance the last term. They had experienced playing against Alliance sides during that amazing run two years ago – including dumping out Grainger Park 12-2 at the quarter-final stage as they produced a string of upsets along the way.

But boss Bullock feels that the result then will have no bearing on this season’s Final.

“Grainger has since comfortably beaten us last season at their place on their way to promotion, so I doubt that result has much bearing. It’s a big Cup Final, both sides are much changed since then, it’s history I’m sure, so winning the game is all that’ll matter to both sides on the night,” he said.

Hazlerigg’s 2015 Final defeat by the Uni left a bit of a bitter taste as player’s heads were lost and cards brandished in the heat of the game but Bullock feels that his team have learned from that experience and will want to avoid being sat in a gloomy dressing room afterwards this time.

“Anyone who was at that game will know there was a lot we could learn from that night.

Our discipline obviously has to be better, both on and off the pitch,” he admitted.

“We have to manage our game better overall and we also need that bit of luck this time. For example, we’d lost two key players to injury by half-time and didn’t get what we know was a stonewall penalty when down to ten men – we’ve seen the video afterwards.” “I think the fact we ran the Uni so close is positive we have to take from 2015 - that we managed to shorten the gulf between the two sides.”

“We’ll certainly need to do that again this time to get anywhere close to Grainger Park are clear favourites. I watched Ponteland beat Alnmouth fairly comfortably, in my opinion, in last year’s final, so it’s not an easy task for the lower ranked sides.”

“We’ve got a relatively young side and I’d like to think those that are still here from two years ago are more experienced, matured footballers and the disappointment also drives them on, they’ve got to help those who haven’t experienced it, as do we the staff.”

“Ultimately, Grainger has some fantastic players, some who’ve played in big games before, and although I’m sure being in the Final before benefits us, it’s not enough to give us any sort of advantage.”

Continued in part Two