Blyth Spartans manager Alun Armstrong was delighted with how his side responded to last week’s disappointing Buildbase FA Trophy exit – as they beat Barwell 2-0 to extend their unbeaten Evo-Stik Premier League run to nine games.
Spartans were unable to overturn a three-goal first half deficit against Vanarama National League side Altrincham in their 3-2 defeat last Saturday, but returned to their best in the opening 45 minutes against Barwell – as Matty Pattison’s penalties either side of the break gave Blyth a victory in their last game before Christmas.
And Armstrong was quick to praise his players and the manner in which they responded to last week’s disappointment – following a discussion about the result at training before the visit of Barwell.
Discussing the importance of returning to winning ways after their cup exit, Armstrong said: “That was the big thing – as I had a chat with the lads at training on Thursday about it. I just said that we hadn’t worked at the intensity that I had seen from them in the first 15 games since I came in and that wasn’t the level of performance that I’ve come to know from them.
“Against Barwell though, they did that. I thought we started nice and bright, we got at them and we played our football.
“I think that we probably went too direct last week – as there were too many long balls and we didn’t play like how I know we can.
“When we played football in the second half against Altrincham, that’s when we opened them up. We had a good chat about it, everyone discussed the game and I thought we responded really well with another win in the league.”
After a great start of the game, Spartans seemed to take their foot off the gas in the second half – as Barwell tried to battle their way back into the game. Despite easing off after the break, Armstrong still admitted that he thought Blyth were well worth their win.
The 41-year-old added: “First half, I thought we played really well. We nullified their attacks, passed the ball really well and created a lot of openings.
“It was just the final ball that was missing, but you’ve got to look at just how comfortable we were. Myself and Darren [Holloway, assistant manager] both said after the game that the result was never in doubt really.
“The lads knew what they had to do and they stuck to the task.
“The second half, however, was nowhere near what we were doing before the break. They lifted their tempo, which we knew they would – as they had to go for it – and the ball was like a hot potato at times, so I had to say to the lads to get it down and start playing again.
“To be fair to the lads, they dug in and things weren’t falling for them in the box. That said, I don’t think you can argue with the result – as we were the better team and we nullified any threat that they had.
“They were a big physical side, but we looked really confident up against them. I couldn’t fault the lads – as they worked their socks off and got what they deserved in the end, which was the three points.”
After Pattison was subbed off when on a hat-trick down at Barwell, the South African thought he had finally put three past the Canaries at Croft Park – only to be denied by the assistant flagging for offside. And while former Middlesbrough and Ipswich Town striker Armstrong felt sympathy for “Patta” not notching his hat-trick, he revealed that he had no qualms about replacing Pattison soon after.
Armstrong explained: “I was talking to Patta during the game and I asked how he was, to which he asked for five more minutes. I don’t drag people off because I feel like it, I bring them off if they look knackered and they can’t do any more.
“There was no doubt with the two penalties though. Patta put them away brilliantly.
“I’m devastated for the lad that he didn’t get his hat-trick – as that was one of the harshest decisions I’ve ever seen. How he could have been offside there I will never know, but you probably have to have a look at the highlights to see it.
“Like I say, he said to give him five more minutes to try and get his hat-trick. I did the same down at Barwell to see the game through; he came off and we managed to pick up the win again.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about one person; it’s about getting the result and keeping a clean sheet, which we looked really comfortable doing. I just had to ensure that we didn’t let them back in for a nervous ending and we didn’t.”
Spartans now face a week off, before their festive fixtures begin with a Boxing Day trip to fellow high-flyers Whitby Town and the Blyth boss admits that he is eagerly anticipating testing himself against a “really good footballing side.”
Armstrong said: “I’m really looking forward to it, because all I keep hearing is that Whitby are a really good footballing side. I know a lot of the players there, with them being ex-Middlesbrough lads who have come through the academy, so they will be good players.
“It’s going to be a totally different game to what we had against Barwell, it’s going to be more about football. It’s going to be very interesting and I’m really looking forward to it – as it’s the first time in a while that we’ll have faced a side that are trying to play football.
“That’s not being disrespectful to other teams in this league, but every team we have played in the last five or six games have had massive centre-forwards and/or big centre-halves and they play off that. That’s not us, that’s not Blyth football.
“The fans don’t want to see that and – while you might need that as a last resort – for me, that’s not the way I want to play football. If we can play like we did in the first half against Barwell though, we’ll beat anyone.”