Despite the unseasonal late summer weather Saturday afternoon’s FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round game between Blyth Spartans and Bedlington Terriers started off as something of a damp squib. But the fireworks and the rousing crescendo did, in the end, spark the match and the crowd in to life as Blyth went to win by two goals to one, despite a strong appeal for a penalty from the Bedlington players in the dying seconds.
A dull first half an hour saw the visiting Terriers look the most dangerous in terms of attempts on goal but it was after 35 minutes when Blyth manager Steve Cuggy was forced to replace Chris Emms with Lee Mason, following an ankle injury to the former, that the Spartans began to come to life. Mason shot over and Armstrong was denied by a crisp tackle as the half petered out.
Cuggy commented: “We were poor in the first period and really just not good enough. Everything we had wanted to do – we didn’t! We had planned to play at a high tempo but couldn’t get going and although I’d tried to instil in the players that, although we had lost the last two games without scoring, we could get the job done by grinding out a result and that is what happened in the end. I thought neither team were willing to go for it at first nor we were able to support Graeme Armstrong up front.”
Things changed after the interval with the both sides coming out with more positive intent. Within 10 minutes of the restart Cuggy replaced midfielder Ritchie Slaughter with Dylan Purvis. He explained: “Right side of midfield is not really Ritchie’s position and Dylan did really well after coming on.” Indeed Purvis added some width to Blyth and, along with Mason, was able to get behind the Bedlington defence and deliver crosses with some conviction.
Blyth made another enforced change with David Coulson replacing fellow centre back Carl Jones who had suffered a dead leg.
Blyth goalkeeper David Knight kept his side in the game with a good flying save while, at the other end, Spartans’ Man of the Match Neal Hooks rattled the Bedlington crossbar.
Blyth took the lead on 74 minutes with Wayne Phillips poking the ball home but soon afterwards Knight once again had to make a decisive save, this time blocking with his legs to prevent an equaliser. With nine minutes remaining a sublime move saw Hooks put Blyth two goals up. Picking the ball up on the half way line Hooks spread a pass to Armstrong on the wing. Hooks immediately darted forward, outsprinting two defenders clearly confident of receiving the ball back from the Blyth captain. Armstrong duly delivered a perfectly weighted ball into Hooks’ path and the midfielder took one touch before shooting. Morton in the Bedlington goal parried the effort but Hooks was on hand to calmly chip the prone keeper.
The Terriers pulled a goal back on 90 minutes through former Spartan Ian Graham and had penalty claim waved away by the referee moments later.
“Our second half showing was much better,” said Cuggy. “Both Mason and Purvis did well when they came on, Phillips improved as did Hooks. I think, in the end our fitness showed as Bedlington were confined to isolated breakaways.
“Credit must be given to Graeme Armstrong who, although not scoring that much at the moment still contributes massively to the team. Even when the chips are down he never disappears. It was unfortunate we gave the ball away to set up Bedlington’s goal and for the move which resulted in the penalty claim but young Adam Forster will learn from that. I spoke to him after the game and he has taken on board what I said. He’s a player with massive potential who will ultimately benefit from the experience.”
Commenting on the late penalty claim Cuggy said: “I asked the ref after the game what his take on it was and he said that their lad was going to ground before any contact with my player.
“Credit to Bedlington for their performance. They complimented us too and I wish them well for the rest of the season,” he added.
Cuggy has signed former Newcastle and Hamilton striker Richard Offiong and is confident the he will add something to Blyth’s play. “Richard is strong, has lightening pace and is a proven goal scorer at this level.”
The Spartans are still waiting for Offiong’s international clearance following his spell playing in Australia.
Cuggy , who believes that Saturday’s victory will see the benefits carry through to this weekend’s home fixture in the Blue square Bet North league against Worcester City, hopes that forward Phil Bannister may have recovered from injury in time to feature.