Blyth Spartans AFC moved a step closer to Wembley thanks to a tremendous team performance and two strikes from Captain Paul Brayson, who celebrated scoring his 50th goal for the club.
Following the win against Fleetwood Town in the last round, Altrincham are the latest Blue Square Bet Premier outfit to have been knocked out of this season’s FA Trophy by Blyth. And the manner in which the home side took the game to their opponents, particularly in the first half will give Mick Tait and his group of players great confidence as they enter the last 16 of the competition.
The score line may suggest this was a close encounter at Croft Park but those in attendance will surely wonder how the match was won by such a small margin.
Both sides had experienced very different starts to 2011. Altrincham began the New Year extremely well with two wins and a draw, including victories over Rushden and Diamonds and Mansfield Town. In contrast Blyth had picked up just one point from a possible nine in the league and had suffered back to back defeats at the hands of Droylsden and Nuneaton Town respectively. However, by the evidence of this contest you could have been mistaken in the belief that Spartans were the form team prior to kick off.
Paul Brayson gave The Robins an early scare when he cut inside from the left and unleashed a shot from 35 yards which flashed wide of the upright.
Stuart Coburn in the Altrincham goal was making his 500th appearance for the club and he probably didn’t expect to have such a busy afternoon against a team in a lower division.
Nicky Deverdics had two chances with his head within the space of three minutes. He failed to hit the target with his first effort after an inviting cross by Robert Dale. In his second attempt he tested Coburn but the goalkeeper showed a safe pair of hands to hold the ball.
At the other end, Mark Gillespie in his final game for Blyth before his loan period expires and he returns to Carlisle United had very little to do apart from claim some routine crosses in the box.
The home side then really began to get in to their stride with some intricate passing moves which culminated in a succession of chances but still no breakthrough.
Stephen Turnbull and Robert Dale combined well to supply Phil Cave who saw his shot deflected wide. Michael Tait then had a strike spilled by Coburn who just managed to smother the ball before Brayson could pounce.
On a difficult surface the football Blyth produced was exquisite as they dominated the play. Many of Altrincham’s travelling supporters were waving large red flags, and they must have considered painting them white at some point as their team were simply outclassed in every department.
Blyth’s Phil Cave was causing havoc in the opposition half with some marauding runs from the left back berth. When one of these advances was beautifully picked out by Turnbull, he played a weighted pass to Deverdics who fired wide of the target.
There was little respite for the visitors as Blyth continued to pile on the pressure. Dan Groves had obviously taken some tips from his fellow full back as he also looked to get forward at every opportunity. When Tait played a superb ball through the Altrincham back line, Groves had the perfect opportunity to fire Blyth in to the lead but his shot from close range was saved by the legs of Coburn.
How ironic then that the fantasy football which had Croft Park drooling for the best part of 45 minutes resulted in nothing, as the opening goal arrived in rather scrappy fashion, two minutes before the interval. Not that it mattered to anybody of a green and white persuasion. Turnbull delivered a dangerous ball in to the area and a goalmouth scramble ensued with Deverdics and Tait both looking to take advantage. The ball eventually fell to Brayson who scored his 15th goal of the season with the simplest of finishes past Coburn.
The referee brought an end to the half as the Spartans players were met by a standing ovation as they made their way down the tunnel.
Blyth started the second half as they spent the whole of the first, in total control. Brayson was denied a goal scoring opportunity by the linesman who flagged when Turnbull supplied the forward with a measured pass. Deverdics and Cave combined to provide Brayson with another opportunity but his volley was blocked by Altrincham’s Marc Joseph.
There was an inevitable reaction from Altrincham who hadn’t fashioned a clear cut chance in over an hour of football. A double substitution livened up the visitors and rekindled their hopes of a turnaround. Substitute Michael Twiss hit an effort straight at Gillespie before Wes Baynes tested the young goalkeeper with a shot from outside the area. Baynes almost equalised moments later when he fired a thunderbolt of a free kick just wide of the target with Gillespie rooted to the spot.
Blyth finally got the crucial second goal in the 78th minute. Robbie Williams came undone when he tried to clear a Deverdics ball which Brayson latched on to and finished superbly with a delicate chip over the advancing Coburn. This was the striker’s 50th goal in a green and white shirt. An achievement made even more impressive when you take in to consideration the short amount of time he’s been at the club.
Despite looking certain to be heading for the 3rd round Blyth almost conspired to throw their lead away in a crazy two minutes. Turnbull was dispossessed by Twiss who somehow managed to side foot wide when one on one with Gillespie. The visitors did however pull one back in their next attack when Damian Reeves proved far more clinical than his team mate when he fired home to set up a nervy finale to the game.
Blyth managed to hang on for a deserved and memorable victory to the delight and relief of the Croft Park faithful.
Blyth Spartans: Gillespie, Groves, Cave, Tait, Swailes, Buchanan, Hooks, Turnbull, Brayson, Deverdics, Dale
Altrincham: Coburn, Densmore, Brown, Joseph, Williams, Smith (Hewson), Lawton, Danlyk (Holsgrove), Beesley (Twiss), Reeves, Baynes
Referee: Mr Harrington