Arriving at Croft Park Blyth on Saturday on the back of an impressive run of form Hinckley United left the northeast to return to Leicestershire battered and bewildered.
The Spartans unleashed a display of attacking football full of desire and all round quality which destroyed the visitors and left them arguing amongst themselves on the pitch as they willed the final whistle to come and put an end to their misery.
6-1 to the Spartans was the final score.
A buoyant home crowd however left the ground possibly wondering how on earth their side only managed to score six.
Blyth manager Mick Tait felt similarly. “I can’t remember any game throughout my playing and managerial career where one side had so many chances. We could easily have scored ten,” he said.
He did add, however “We scored some spectacular goals which on some days might have flown wide but on the other hand we missed a boatload of opportunities too.”
Tait was pleased with the way his side started the game.
“We scrapped from the start which is something we haven’t always done this season when we’ve let teams get on top of us. That allowed us to start playing our football after the opening 15 minutes. To be fair I don’t think that was Hinckley’s best performance of the year but we did very very well. I certainly didn’t expect that kind of result before the game. We attacked really well but it was an overall strong team performance even though we lost our way a bit in the final 20 minutes, which can happen when you’re so far ahead. Having said that we worked hard to keep our focus and despite going in to the second half four goals to the good we kept attacking for most of the game.”
The rout started on 23 minutes when Michael Tait popped up 10 yards out to calmly stroke the ball passed Connolly in the visitors’ goal who had parried a shot by Robbie Dale. Dale then missed a penalty after the Paul Brayson was fouled in the penalty box before a sustained Blyth onslaught saw them score three goals in five minutes. Full back Stephen Harrison hit a 20-yard screamer which flew into the top corner of the net. Within minutes former Newcastle midfielder Mark Doninger reacted quickly to a perceptive pass from Brayson to side step the defender and score with a cross shot.
Two minutes later, with Hinckley reeling, another ball from Brayson fell to Ian Graham who prodded the ball home. Blyth could have made it five on the stroke of half time when Brayson’s chip was saved by Connolly.
Tait was pleased with the way a new formation continued to work for him in the second half.
“Kenny Boyle did well replacing the unavailable John Brackstone at left back. I told him not to get into too many advanced positions and rather to take care of their tricky winger. This allowed Harrison on the other flank more freedom to go forward and of course he scored a tremendous goal. The other change was playing Chris McCabe in front of the back four, mainly because of his heading ability. I’ve noticed that lots of team in this League like to play lots of long balls and putting Chris in there worked a treat. Plus having Mark Doninger back in the side we now have lots of attacking options.”
Brayson made sure Blyth restarted the game as they finished the first latching on to a sublime through ball by Tait and beating the keeper at the second attempt.
The Spartans continued to savage their opponents with chances going begging before substitute Alex Taylor pulled a goal back for Hinckley.
But Blyth were in no mood to show any mercy, continuing to harass the Hinckley defence at every opportunity.
The final goal came with ten minutes remaining and almost defies description – as well as the laws of physics!
Harrison whipped in a cross from the right and Graham, coming in at the far post, having little time to judge the flight of the ball had to rapidly adjust his forward body momentum but managed to stick out his right leg backwards to reach the ball which was arriving just behind him and produced a flicked volley with the outside of his heel which flew back across goal into the top corner of the net.
Tait was at pains to praise striker Paul Brayson.
“Paul may not have scored as many goals as he may have liked for us so far but he has made a big difference to our overall attitude. He has great movement, always occupying defenders, which in turn allows other players to get more space and that was evident at the weekend. He frightens defenders to death and is so unselfish in front of goal when he sees better options.
He also commented on the surprise move of goalkeeper Craig Turns to Spennymoor.
“I saw it coming – he’s had his head turned. I’m not disappointed, I understand that individuals’ financial situations can affect people’s actions but I only want players who want to play for Blyth Spartans.
“I didn’t go searching for a keeper earlier this season but Turns became available when Durham City had their problems. Mark Bell has knuckled down and I think with Turns having been here Mark is now a better keeper so that’s positive thing for me.”
It is understood the Blyth are going to send an official complaint to the FA over how the move was handled.
This Tuesday sees the Spartans take on Salford City in their FA Cup third qualifying round replay with the winners playing AFC Telford this Saturday at home.
Tait’s side drew 2-2 at Salford in a game which could have gone either way but did not show Blyth in their best light.
“Their formation caused in the first game caused us problems,” suggested Tait. “We tried to impose our formation on them but it didn’t work. We then had to change to stop them from playing and that detracted from our game. To be honest I was pleased to hear the final whistle and to take the draw.
“We’ve got to be confident going into Tuesday’s match but we mustn’t be overly so, our players know the problems they caused us and could cause us again.”
Tait hopes midfielder Stephen Turnbull will be fit to rejoin the squad along with Adrian Webster and John Brackstone.
Mark Doninger is unavailable.
Whether Blyth can reproduce Saturday’s barnstorming form remains to be seen but team confidence and manager Tait’s composed yet resolute character make for a potent mix.