Robbie Blake knows better than most that goals change games. After all, the Bognor coach fired in more than 150 goals during an illustrious playing career.
The Rocks No.2 is perhaps best remembered for his marksmanship during stints at Bradford, Leeds and Burnley. And it was while on duty at the latter that he notched his most famous strike, smashing in an unstoppable volley against champions Manchester United at Turf Moor in 2009.
Blake scored with his left foot. He scored with his right foot. Free-kicks were a particular speciality. Headers? Not too many, by his own admission -- although his debut goal for Darlington as a 17-year-old novice was headed home. “I don’t know about rising like a salmon, I think it just hit me like a salmon,” he said of a goal that put him in the headlines. Goals change careers.
That was then, though, and 25 years later he is coming to the end of his first season at the Nye Camp. Following a stint as a coach at Pompey, Blake joined the Rocks as coach alongside manager Jack Pearce last summer. And now, as the curtain falls on the season, he is working with Pearce to prepare the squad for the Sussex Senior Cup final against Burgess Hill Town. The two sides meet on Tuesday at the Amex Stadium, the home of Premier League Brighton.
And with silverware in sight, it is a very welcome prospect for the coach and the manager to be able to call on the considerable goal threat of Bradley Lethbridge and Jimmy Muitt. Both have been injured, but are in contention to face the Hillians, who have just been relegated from the Bostik Premier division.
Cup final means so much to Bognor
We need to be miles better next season
Muitt's knee injury has been a long-term problem and he has been nurtured back to fitness slowly but surely, with a 20-minute run in the 0-0 draw with Whitehawk and 45 minutes against Folkestone Invicta in the final league outing of the campaign. Lethbridge, a precociously talented goal-getter on loan from Pompey, suffered a hip injury in the 2-0 reverse at Dorking Wanderers two weeks ago. He has bags of potential. So much so, in fact, that recently he has been handed a new one-year extension to his deal at Fratton Park.
Reflecting on the season, Blake acknowledges that a triumph in the final would go some way to making up for missing out on the play-offs in a campaign that has been blighted with injuries. He said: "In many ways it is a season-defining game. We know we must do better and we'll endeavour to do that. If we can win it'll finish the season with some silverware and that is always a good thing. It will give our fantastically loyal fans something to cheer about. But it would also be a huge positive to take into next season.
"Burgess Hill have sadly been relegated but they fought until the very end and you know that they are a very different team to the side we beat 8-0 at home earlier on in the season. The game there we won 2-0 but we had to defend for long periods and it was only a late Muitt goal that made it 2-0 when in all reality it wasn't a 2-0 kind of win.
"Of course, players of the calibre of Jimmy and Brad coming back will be a huge boost for us. It looks like they will be fit and are in contention for a place in the squad. With Jimmy we had to take it easy and not rushed things. Going forward they give us good options and in a final, a one-off game, you need those qualities if you are to succeed."
It’s true Muitt (26 goals) and Lethbridge (13) have prowess in the box. And as we know, goals change games.