“Slowly but surely we’re moving forward,” said Blyth Spartans manager Steve Cuggy after witnessing his team’s 3-3 draw at home to Hinckley on Saturday.
It was a game which ebbed and flowed in contrast to much of Blyth’s season to date which has mainly ebbed. But a last gasp equaliser for the home side, after an impressively vigorous showing, may indicate that the tide is turning in bottom of the table Blyth’s favour.
“Credit to the players, after defeats to Gateshead and Vauxhall Motors last week they came out with confidence and loads of self belief. They were up for the game and prepared to battle,” said Cuggy.
The Spartans started briskly playing with pace and confidence. Chris Emms on the right would have put a fire fly to shame with this exuberant twists and turns while over on the left Wayne Philips was employing his trademark step overs for fun.
Jamie Mole shot just over as the Spartans tore forward and Emms shot wide before a driving Phillips run found Emms who cut inside and fired low and to the left of keeper Denham Hinds to put Blyth ahead after 16 minutes.
More chances followed but Charlie Ragan equalised for Hinckley after 23 minutes following a defensive mix up.
Cuggy said: “The ball was in the air in our box and Graeme Armstrong lost sight of it. It hit his back and fell for Ragan. It was very much a lack of communication issue, which we will have to work on”.
With Blyth continuing to press and come close it was a cruel twist of fate which, on the stroke of half time, saw Neal Hooks miss what his manager called “a sitter” and for Hinckley to immediately take the lead through Danny Newton.
“The miss was a killer,” commented Cuggy. “Neal should possibly have struck his shot harder rather than going for the lob after Armstrong put him clean through.
“At the break Gav [Fell, assistant manager] and I stood back while Neal and Graeme had a frank discussion! But that all settled down after a few minutes and we refocused on going back out and challenging again in the second half.
“We should have been out of sight by half time if we’d taken our chances. I think we probably had more chances in those 45 minutes than in our entire last five or six games”.
Frank discussions may become the order of the day for Blyth as, with only ten minutes played, Armstrong rose to head home and end his goal drought.
Cuggy said: “Graeme was banging them in during training on Thursday so this was probably coming. Him scoring in a major plus and I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes on a run now. I know from my own experience what it is like to go without scoring for a while”.
Blyth then lost momentum and David Knight in the Blyth goal was called upon to make some excellent saves.
Cuggy explained the change: “It’s symptom of the position we’re in. It’s almost as if we’re scared to win and just desperate not to lose games”.
On 73 minutes an incisive move saw Andre Gray’s pace set up Danny Newton to finish coolly and put his side 3-2 up. But Blyth didn’t lie down and hit back in added time when the ball fell for Glen Taylor qualise once more.
“We could have had a penalty in the lead up but the referee played a really good advantage,” said Cuggy.
“Glen had lots of time to think about it but, and a bobbly pitch too, kept his head to finish well”.
The Blyth boss was in two minds about the final score. “It was valuable point but I believe that if a poor decision had not gone against us in the Vauxhall game we could have won that one and then go in to Saturday’s match capable of winning that too”.
Is the weekend’s point a turning point for the Spartans?
“I’d like to think so,” said Cuggy. “Things have, to some extent, been going against us and something went for us against Hinckley. Plus it looks like we’ve stopped the rot – teams aren’t running away from us in matches now”.
With defenders Darren Timmons and Wayne Buchanan back from work commitments and a tight hamstring respectively available for the cup games against Benfield at home on Tuesday in the Northumberland Senior Cup and Stalybridge, again at Croft Park, on Saturday in the FA Trophy Cuggy has options at his disposal.
On Tuesday he intends to give some players who need match fitness a game but equally he is inclined to keep players who are, in his words, ‘starting to buzz’ in the starting line up.
“Saturday’s fixture will be tough too,” he said. “Stalybridge are a good footballing side but we played one of our best games at their place earlier in the season and even though we lost that time we are not daunted”.
There was an undercurrent of hope in Blyth’s weekend performance which will tide them over in to the Cup games. Whether it represents a sea change is an entirely different matter.