Alun Armstrong was delighted to see his Blyth Spartans side follow his game plan perfectly during Saturday’s 2-1 win over high-flying Hednesford Town – as he applauded the way in which the visitors controlled proceedings at Keys Park.
Sean Reid’s spectacular finish from long-range gave Spartans a second half lead, before he made way for the returning Daniel Maguire – with Blyth’s top scorer for this season featuring for the first time since picking up a calf injury against Spennymoor Town in the new manager’s first game in charge last month.
The Pitmen drew level through substitute Gurjit Singh’s deflected strike, but Blyth couldn’t complain at that bit of luck – as, with nine minutes left, Calum Flanagan’s attempted tackle on Luke Armstrong in the box resulted in the ball rebounding into the net off the striker’s leg.
Even though there was fortunate goals at both ends, Armstrong senior was happy with the dominating display that eventually saw his side claim all three Evo-Stik Premier League points.
Armstrong said: “I thought we thoroughly controlled the game. They had one direct bit of play, where they hit the 11 and had runners off him, but we were able to deal with that and they had nothing else to offer really.
“We controlled the game throughout and everyone defended extremely well. We did our jobs in possession and it was only when we switched off that their full-backs were able to get in.
“On an attacking front, I thought we were much better and we caused them all sorts of problems. They were just chucking the ball anywhere, so it says a lot – as we were able to turn a good footballing side into a really direct one, purely because of the pressure we put them under from the front.”
With Hednesford sat third in the table prior to kick-off, a tough game was expected against the recently relegated Vanarama National League North side. However, the Blyth boss heaped special praise to forwards Reid and Armstrong for disrupting their opponent’s play throughout the game – in a game where he also welcomed striker Maguire back off the bench.
Armstrong added: “That was the game plan – to try and get them to stop playing – and Luke and Reidy did fantastically well in that part of the game.
“I have to give those two lads full credit, because they ran their socks off to the point that they were both blowing up. I could have done with taking them both off really.
“Reidy came off at the time and Nipa [Maguire] gives us something completely different, which leads to him setting up a goal for Luke.
“Both the lads deserved their goals against Hednesford but, now I’ve got the three of them, I’m looking forward to rotating them.”
With Armstrong preferring a 4-4-2 formation so far during his tenure, one of his forwards will be forced to sit out Tuesday’s home game against Ilkeston and – with all three seemingly in-form at present – he will no doubt suffer a selection headache when deciding which of the three to drop.
Armstrong admitted: “It’ll be harsh on whoever misses out. We’ve done extremely well in the last few games.
“Yes, we’ve not scored as many goals as we’d like, but they’ve done the other things they need to out of possession. It’s not just about going forward, you need to do the defensive duties as well and the two lads we’ve had up there recently have done fantastically well.
“Again, Nipa’s back now and he knows the roles he’s going to be playing. We’ll be working on those in training and the three of them will give me a selection problem for the upcoming games.”
While his strikers were firing on all cylinders, Armstrong was frustrated to see his side concede for the first time in the four games he has opted to play 4-4-2. However, he took heart from the fact that Adam McHugh was only beaten because of a deflection on Singh’s shot.
He said: “The longer you keep a clean sheet, the more chance you have of winning the game. It’s common sense really and that’s what I’ve been saying to the lads.
“I was gutted when we conceded today and, to be honest, Adam was fantastic once again but their goal was a massive deflection. It takes a little bit of the shine off that we conceded, but it’s taken that deflection for someone to finally beat us using this set-up.
“We look organised, everyone knows their roles and that’s the first thing I wanted to get put back into this side: getting everyone to know what they’re doing out of possession and be hard to beat, because I know we have enough quality going forward.”
Despite good spells of attacking pressure, Blyth looked destined to draw a blank when Reid was denied a spectacular goal by an equally impressive save by Dan Crane. However, the lofty striker was not to be denied – as he left the goalkeeper with no chance with a similar effort less than ten minutes later, for which his gaffer had nothing but praise for.
Armstrong said: “It was a great goal. Not long before that, he had one in a similar situation and the keeper pulled off a great save.
“I had my head in my hands, to be honest with you – as I thought it was going to be one of those days where we weren’t going to get a goal. Reidy kept on – even though I could see he was starting to tire – and he turned the lad brilliantly.
“It was a great bit of skill to turn and get away from him and he’s struck it really sweet. He deserved his goal to be fair, for the work he put in.”
While Reid’s was a spectacular strike, Armstrong’s was as fortunate as they come – as he profited from a goal-bound deflection for the second time in a week for the winner. However, his father revealed that the 20-year-old has been reaping the reward for his instinctive nature and just having the knack of knowing where to be to get goals.
Armstrong explained: “Obviously, I’ve watched Luke since he started playing football at six or seven years old and he’s always scored those type of goals. I keep saying to people that you have to be in the right place at the right time and it doesn’t matter if it’s one of those or a 30-yard screamer, all goals count as one.
“You go and ask any centre-forward what type of goals they like and it’s always the little tap-ins that are the best. Yes, you get the acclaim for a great strike but if you score the winner via a ricochet off your backside, it doesn’t matter; they all count.
“That’s what Luke does; he keeps getting in and, if there’s a chance, he never gives in. He’s done it all of his life, he’s got in those positions to score goals all the way from junior football and he’s still doing it.
“As I say, it’s just having that knack of being in the right place at the right time and you can’t teach that.”
Following the change back to 4-4-2 from a disastrous attempt at 4-3-3 that gifted Warrington Town a 3-0 win, Blyth have won two and drawn one of their last three games – including a breath-taking first half display in the 3-0 home win over Mickleover Sports. With Ilkeston making the trip up to the Northumbrian coastline on Tuesday night, Armstrong can’t wait to get back to enjoying home comforts once more.
Armstrong said: “I’m looking forward to walking back out at Croft Park – as, the last time we were there, the lads produced an outstanding performance and we’ve built on it. I’m delighted to have taken seven points from a possible nine, so I’m chuffed to bits with the way we’ve responded to that defeat to Warrington.
“I’m glad that the lads have taken what I’ve said on board. They know what’s expected of them and they know what they need to do to win games now.
“None of these games are going to be easy; they’re all going to be tough. Everyone can see we’re a good footballing side, but we need to match the work-rate of whoever we play against.
“No one has a divine right to go out and play football, they have to work hard for it. That’s what we’ve done and we’ve earned the rewards from it.”