As Fleetwood Town’s mascot – a giant cod – paraded around their Highbury Stadium on Saturday prior to the game against Blyth Spartans the travelling fans were wondering if there’d be another fish out of water on the pitch when the teams emerged.
Earlier in the day Blyth manager Mick Tait had moved to resolve his shortage of defenders for the clash with the top of the table ‘Fishermen’ as Richard Pell was injured and John Brackstone was working.
Tait signed former Spartans centre back Richard Forster. Forster left Blyth a couple of seasons ago and has been playing at Northern League level.
“I noticed the Tow Law game against Ashington was called off so I scoured their sides to see who might be able to help us out on Saturday. The Tow Law manager was pleased to help us out with Richard” said Tait.
However the fact that Forster will return to the County Durham club with seven stitches in a head wound picked up in the game might make him somewhat less pleased now.
Tait continued, “Richard hadn’t played for five weeks and may not have been up to our level of football but he did well after a shaky start. He’d lost a lot of weight recently and that surprised many people.”
Forster had indeed been on a fitness drive to lose weight visiting the gym regularly and changing his eating habits. Rice and, coincidentally fish, now figure as the mainstays of his diet so Fleetwood’s giant cod was probably making itself scarce after the final whistle as Forster looked to assuage his post match hunger.
Fleetwood ran out 4-2 winners in the game which started as dull as the shroud of mist which enveloped the ground.
The Town took the lead on 20 minutes when a measured pass found Adam Warlow unmarked in the Blyth penalty with time to control the ball on his chest and coolly score past goalkeeper Mark Bell for his 17th goal of the season.
The home side then stepped up a gear with the dangerous Clancy shooting just wide and giving the Blyth defence plenty to think about. Warlow then found himself in a similar position to when he opened the scoring but this time Blyth Captain Gareth Williams, who was doing stirring work for the Spartans, managed to pressure him into miscuing.
After 34 minutes Forster picked up a head injury and was forced to leave the field for treatment. Blyth however pressed on and Turnbull drilled a shot wide from 25 yards and Dale nearly put Brayson through on goal.
Unfortunately for Blyth Fleetwood took advantage of the extra man two minutes before half time when Rogan outwitted the Blyth defence to poke the ball past Bell and on the stroke of half time Clancy popped up again to curl a ball towards to the top corner of the Blyth goal only for Bell to pull off a tremendous one handed save.
Forster returned to the game after half time but Fleetwood started the second as they had finished the first – running at Blyth with speed and purpose at every opportunity.
Stephen Harrison and then Stephen Turnbull needed to be alert to clear efforts off the Blyth goal line before Fleetwood’s pressure paid off when Bell spilled a shot and Rogan was on had to hit home the rebound.
With great credit Blyth did not succumb and indeed really started to have a go at their hosts. They were rewarded on 68 minutes when a Turnbull corner was headed on by Forster for Brayson to stab home at the far post.
Now with the bit between their teeth Blyth looked more confident and Tait crossed well into the box but there was no one able to get on the end of it. This was followed by a fierce effort by Turnbull which skimmed the Fleetwood crossbar.
Somewhat against the run of play Pond put Fleetwood 4-1 up after a goalmouth scramble with Blyth players appealing for offside.
Blyth were not finished though and with two minutes remaining Brayson broke through and delicately chipped Hurst in the home goal to pull one back and in added time produced an even better effort which Hurst magnificently turned away.
Manager Tait was as pleased as he could be considering his side had lost.
“We didn’t create enough in the first half and we’re continuing to ship goals too easily,” he said.
“They caused us problems in midfield. We put Chris McCabe in front of the back four to try and a stop them getting the ball from midfield to their forwards but they adjusted their own set up accordingly and pulled us around a bit. Their first goal came as a result of that but we managed to seal them off better after that. The second goal was down to us only having ten men on the pitch following the injury to Forster. The players wanted me to put a sub on but I was expecting Forster to return earlier than he did. Having said that of the ten minutes he was missing we dominated for five of them. I said to the lads at half time that if you took the goals out of the first 45 minutes I would have been reasonably pleased with things.”
Tait was delighted with his side’s attitude and application as the game wore on.
“After our first goal you could see the confidence returning and after the second you could see the lads, chests out, becoming more determined. We had several chances late on and a good penalty appeal turned down when Ian Graham was taken out by a scything tackle. We’ll win games playing like that, we just need to cut out the defensive lapses.”
Goalkeeper Mark Bell returned to Tait’s side in what was his first appearance since the middle of November.
The boss explained “I’m here to make decisions and with Jack Norton having a torrid time in our 5-1 defeat at Northwich during the week, I needed to give Mark a chance to play for his place. He would have thought I didn’t rate him at all if I hadn’t put him in the team. The fact the ball came back off him for one of the goals was just one of those things. The ball bounced in front of him and then just fell to their player unfortunately.”
Tait can take heart from the fact that, following Blyth’s mauling at Northwich, there was no way they were battered by ‘The Fishermen.’
Blyth entertain Staybridge Celtic this Tuesday and may have Richard Pell back in defence if medical advice means he can have the five stitches taken out of a foot injury. Robert Dale, who went off against Fleetwood having aggravated a thigh strain, is doubtful for the match.
The Spartans are at home again this Saturday when they play Gainsborough Trinity if the latter are not involved in the FA Trophy. If they are indeed committed in that competition Blyth have arranged to play Hyde United at Croft Park kick off 3.00pm.