Blyth Spartans welcomed back cult hero Robbie Dale and recorded their third successive victory in the Blue Square Bet North with a 1-0 win over Eastwood Town at Croft Park on Saturday.
Supporters, who had seen Dale leave the club for Whitley Bay in the summer, gave their idol a heartfelt reception as he made his return on a month’s loan deal from the Seahorses.
Dale has scored 96 times in a green and white shirt but the game was in fact decided by a player who had previously never found the back of the net for Blyth, as Shaun Utterson came up with the all important goal after just six minutes.
Even before then, Spartans had looked the more dangerous of the two sides, with Graeme Armstrong having the first real chance of the game on four minutes with a low shot from the edge of the area, which was saved comfortably by Sam Andrew.
Prior to this, Spartans manager Tommy Cassidy had already been forced into making a substitution, as Richie Slaughter replaced Neal Hooks, with the midfielder unable to continue after a crunching tackle from Eastwood captain Mitch Hansen.
The hosts took the lead when a cross from Wayne Phillips was nodded on by Dale in to the path of Armstrong, whose effort towards goal was slotted home by Utterson from seven yards.
Some showboating from Dale had the home crowd singing his name even louder as Spartans cranked up the pressure on their bottom placed opponents.
Joe Kendrick would have doubled his side’s advantage on 20 minutes with a curling free-kick if it hadn’t been for Eastwood’s David Haggerty – who headed the effort off the goal-line, with Andrew well beaten.
The Badgers’ goalkeeper then returned the compliment when he prevented Haggerty from scoring an own goal after the ball ricocheted off the defender following a low cross from Dan Groves.
With Spartans in total control it was set up perfectly for Dale to make a scoring return, and he had the chance to do just that on 34 minutes when he ghosted past Hansen on the edge of the area only to produce a weak shot which was comfortably saved by Andrew.
Dale then had another opportunity to get on the score sheet – two minutes later – but failed to connect properly to an exquisite diagonal pass from Phillips.
For all their dominance, Spartans approached half-time with just the one goal to show for it, and were almost pegged back on 42 minutes when Markel Bailey flashed a shot across goal that went just wide of Robert Birdsall’s far post.
After the break Eastwood had another chance to draw level, this time through Jervais Christie who should have tested Birdsall after turning sharply in the area but instead blazed over the crossbar from 16 yards.
At the other end Armstrong connected to a free-kick from Kendrick with his head but failed to direct the ball on target.
With his next chance, the striker really should have put the result beyond any doubt but instead totally miscued his header from eight yards out, after a cross from Phillips.
Despite defending the slenderest of leads the Spartans defence were still not put under any real pressure and the hosts managed to play out the remainder of the game in a reasonably comfortable manner.
It was by no means a classic but the result puts clear daylight between Spartans and Eastwood Town, with five points now separating the two sides.
Firmly off the bottom of the table, Blyth’s next task is to pull out of the relegation zone in the remaining 10 games, starting with Tuesday night’s trip to Droylsden which is followed by another away game at Solihull Moors on Saturday.
Blyth Spartans: Birdsall, Groves, Kendrick, Anzevui, Buchanan, Mellish, Utterson, Hooks (Slaughter), Armstrong (Taylor), Dale, Phillips
Eastwood Town: Andrew, Keane, Troke, Elliott, Caines, Haggerty, Burge (Raven), Hansen, Christie, Cooper (Whitten), Bailey
Referee: Mr Whiteley