By Glen Maxwell
In association with:
ALAN McLEAN FCMA CGMA
Chartered Management Accountant
Manarama National League North
Saturday September 15 2018
Blyth Spartans 0-2 Leamington
Spartans were left to rue two set-pieces and a missed spot kick on Saturday afternoon – as Leamington’s 2-0 win inflicted Blyth’s fifth defeat in six Manarama National League games.
Jack Edwards got The Brakes off to the perfect start, when he lashed home Kieran Dunbar’s free kick with just six minutes gone. Dunbar then produced a fantastic 33rd minute free kick to get on the scoresheet himself.
The hosts were awarded a way back into the game with 25 minutes still to play, but Spartans’ miserable afternoon was summed up when Bradley Fewster saw his penalty kick saved.
Jordan Watson made a welcome return to the starting line-up, following his long injury lay-off and brief loan spell at Sunderland RCA, with Nathan Buddle dropping to the bench. The only other change from the side that started last Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Kidderminster Harriers saw Fewster in for Connor Oliver, with Sean Reid dropping back to fill the void in midfield.
With the Spartans flag flying at half-mast, Croft Park fell silent prior to kick-off to pay their respects to club historian and loyal supporter Ken Sproat – following the tragic news of his passing earlier in the week.
The hosts had a good early chance, when Jarrett Rivers was fouled at the edge of the box on just three minutes. Robert Dale stepped up to fire a shot at goal, but could only find the Leamington wall.
The visitors had made a long journey up from Warwickshire, but they were anything but sluggish in their start – as they opened the scoring with just six minutes on the clock.
Dunbar fizzed a free kick from the left across the face of goal, which picked out Edwards at the back post. With the easiest of tap-ins to break the deadlock, the striker opted instead to lash the ball hard into the roof of the net.
Things nearly got worse for Blyth five minutes later, when Dunbar’s corner was headed back across goal by Junior English at the far post with Peter Jameson flapping at the cross. Luckily for the hosts though, nothing came from the second ball.
Spartans battled forward once again down the left just after the 15-minute mark, with Dale crossing in towards Daniel Maguire at the near post. The striker was beaten to the header by the grateful hands of Leamington stopper Tony Breeden though.
Fewster then got on the end of two crosses soon after, but was unable to convert either. He headed narrowly wide from Reid’s floated ball in, before Dale’s great whipped cross was nodded off target as well.
The former Spennymoor striker was involved in Blyth’s next attack on the half-hour, but not in the way he would have liked. Reid’s shot from distance looked destined for goal, but the standing leg of Fewster inadvertently blocked the strike inside the area.
Spartans were undone by another set-piece on 33 minutes, with Dunbar producing a sublime free kick to double Leamington’s lead. The midfielder curled the ball around the wall and in off the upright, leaving Jameson with no chance to stop it.
The away side really should have been three goals to the good with seven minutes of the first half remaining, when a lapse header from Michael Liddle presented Matt Stenson with a golden opportunity. The striker hit a firm volley towards goal, but the ball blazed well over the bar.
There was still time for another long-range rasper from Reid just before the break, which thankfully avoided all of his team mates this time. However, with Breeden static in the middle of his goal, he was relieved to watch the ball fizz just wide of the upright.
With nothing much of note for either side within the first ten minutes of the second half, Alun Armstrong sought to mix things up and force a breakthrough – as he replaced skipper Dale with Adam Wrightson on 56 minutes.
The half’s first chance then followed 60 seconds later, but it went the way of the visitors. Joe Clarke hit one from outside the box, but it fizzed just over the bar and the outstretched fingers of Jameson.
Five minutes after the hour mark, Blyth were handed a lifeline back into the contest – as a push in the back of Aaron Cunningham at a corner had referee David McNamara pointing to the penalty spot.
Fewster stepped up to take the spot kick, but could only watch in horror as Breeden dived the right way and got a strong hand on the ball to keep his clean sheet intact.
Things threatened to turn ugly with 15 minutes to go, when James Bowen held on to the ball for a little too long following a foul on Wrightson. The winger took exception to this and, following a little bit of handbags, the pair both ended up in the referee’s book.
Wrightson was then involved with two good chances for Blyth moments later. His fierce shot straight at Breeden had the keeper struggling after spilling the ball, before his volley from a cross on the right a minute later was blasted well over the bar.
A fast-paced one-touch sweeping move more akin to Spartans’ usual standards released Lewis Horner inside the box. However, the former Inverness Caledonian Thistle midfielder’s touch let him down at the vital moment – as Breeden came to claim it off his toes and help consign Spartans to their fifth defeat in six games.
Armstrong’s side will be hoping for a much better showing when they travel to Evo-Stik Premier League side Nantwich Town for their Emirates FA Cup Second Qualifying Round showdown next Saturday (3pm kick off.)
Blyth Spartans: Jameson, Nicholson, Liddle, Horner, J Watson, Cunningham, Rivers, Reid, Maguire (Oliver 70), Fewster, Dale (Wrightson 56).
Subs not used: Buddle, I Watson, Mullen.
Leamington: Breeden, English, Bowen, Clarke, Hood, Lane, Dunbar, Gitting, Stenson (Dwyer 90), Edwards, Obeng (Taylor 74).
Subs not used: Naylor, Nicholson, James.
Referee: David McNamara
Spartans Man of the Match: Aaron Cunningham