Blyth Spartans’ first win of the season was not characterised by any outstanding individual performances.
In fact the named Man of the Match, central defender Wayne Buchanan, was magnanimous and honest enough to suggest that perhaps on this occasion the award should have been held over.
Blyth manager Steve Cuggy concurred but praised the team effort. “The players played for each other and, although it was not our best performance to date we got the all important three points,” he said.
The Spartans started sluggishly often being guilty of being caught in possession against the visiting Bishop’s Stortford side. Debutant Matt Crook in the Blyth goal was called into action early on but could do little to prevent the Hertfordshire side taking the lead on 14 minutes when a mix up between defenders Buchanan and David Coulson handed Michael Bakare the opportunity to score from close range. Cuggy however was reluctant to criticise his players. “Yes there was some confusion but I’m not going to castigate the lads who have been really good for us this season. We will have teething problems and, at the end of the day, we still went on to win the game,” he said.
Blyth employed a 3/5/2 formation which Cuggy thought worked well in the pre-season friendly with Partick Thistle.
“I played three centre backs to have a go at them from set pieces – to exploit Liam Atkin’s height.”
The plan was to prove successful later in the game.
Blyth were not behind for long and equalised with a scorching free kick from Chris Emms.
“He’s got that in his locker,” commented Cuggy. “He’s a creative player who missed three weeks of our pre-season and is still on an upward curve.”
Blyth had been practising four free kicks on the previous Thursday in training but bizarrely an Emms shot over the wall into the top corner of the net from 30 yards was not one of them!
Then, reflecting the fact that Blyth had gradually found some sort of rhythm, they took the lead on the cusp of half time with an outstanding individual effort from midfielder Neal Hooks who won possession in the centre circle then proceeded to dance through the Bishop’s Stortford defence before firing home across goalkeeper Joe Wright.
Cuggy’s half time team talk focussed on addressing the tentative nature of Blyth’s play and stressing the positives to be gained from a quicker passing game. However implementing such a plan was not straightforward.
“Our pitch doesn’t help good passing football,” he suggested. “We have several hundred fans coming to see us at home but the fewer, travelling supporters have seen us play better – and I believe they will continue to see that during the course of the season under current circumstances.”
Atkin’s height was to prove beneficial to the home side on the resumption of play when he rose at the back post to score from a Hooks free kick.
Matt Crook was called on twice in quick succession to keep Blyth 3-1 up as play shifted from end to end but without a great deal of conviction or quality.
In the dying minutes Crook was again in action palming away a Bishop’s Stortford effort. If there was indeed a top Blyth performance it was possibly from the young Blyth – based keeper.
Cuggy said: “Matt did very well. He’s a former England schoolboys keeper and has filled out well over the past year and has a really good presence.” Crook was actually not fully fit having been struggling with an ankle injury for several weeks.
The Blyth victory came as a relief to the management pair of Cuggy and Gavin Fell.
“Gav and I felt under a lot of pressure during the days before the game – or we put ourselves under that pressure,” said Cuggy. “We were conscious that after good performances we had only one point. On Saturday we weren’t great but we won and that was the important thing!”
On the injury front Cuggy reported that midfielder Shaun Vipond had been sent for an x-ray after club physiotherapist Susan Dale was concerned about a possible stress fracture but the diagnosis revealed only shin splints. Fellow midfielder Wayne Phillips should return to the squad soon when a hamstring problem clears up.