By Glen Maxwell
In association with:
ALAN McLEAN FCMA CGMA
Chartered Management Accountant
Vanarama National League North
Saturday November 3 2018
Blyth Spartans 0-3 FC United of Manchester
Blyth Spartans were brought back down to earth by Vanarama National League strugglers FC United of Manchester on Saturday afternoon – after they followed up two strong away showings with a disappointing 3-0 reverse.
United went ahead through Kurt Willoughby on 20 minutes, after they capitalised on a poor Spartans free kick. Thomas Peers doubled up for the visitors less than a minute later, to quickly take the game away from the hosts.
Blyth did their best to drag themselves back into the contest, but were caught on the break again in the final minute of the game – as Lewis Mansell brought down the curtain on an awful afternoon for the home side with a fine finish.
After enjoying back-to-back wins on the road in their previous two games, Spartans boss Alun Armstrong opted to name an unchanged squad from that which enjoyed a 3-1 at Guiseley on Tuesday night.
Daniel Maguire grabbed a brace in that game and was obviously eager for more – as he waited a mere two minutes to create the game’s opening opportunity. He cut inside and tried to stroke the ball into the bottom-right corner, but Lloyd Allinson got down well to tip it around the upright.
The visitors’ first foray at goal came courtesy of a corner five minutes later, when it was cleared only as far as Michael Potts. The United skipper attempted a half-volley from the edge of the area, but it was well off-target.
Connor Oliver drifted a free kick into the box in the 15-minute mark that had Nathan Buddle challenging Allinson in the air. However, the keeper’s blushes were spared when he spilled the ball – as Buddle was adjudged to have strayed offside when the ball was played.
Another Oliver free kick resulted in the game’s opening goal five minutes later, but not in the way that many inside Croft Park were expecting.
After hitting the wall with his delivery, the away side broke straight down the other end with a move that saw Willoughby sprint onto a ball through the middle ahead of Kieran Green. With Peter Jameson advancing, the United striker calmly slotted the ball past the keeper and wheeled off in celebration as the ball trickled over the line.
If the Croft Park faithful had been frustrated by their side going 1-0 down in those circumstances, they were incensed when the Reds went further ahead within a minute of their first – after a great ball in from Elliot Simoes on the left picked out a free Peers, who headed in unopposed at the back post.
Manchester’s left winger bested a sliding Aaron Cunningham to get down the left again on 35 minutes and, once again, looked inside for Peers. However, this time, his shot was straight at a grateful Jameson.
Another strong run from Simoes two minutes later saw him go past two and trying one from distance, but his low drive was deflected behind by a Blyth leg.
Proving to be a thorn in Spartans’ right side, Simoes was causing havoc again seven minutes before the break – as he got in again and cut the ball back at the byline. His pass perfectly picked out the feet of Willoughby, but the striker fluffed his lines massively and he could only watch as his side-footed effort flew well wide.
Having been on the back foot since they suffered two sucker-punches in quick succession, there was still time for Blyth to pull one back as the first half drew to a close. Oliver’s free kick was headed on by Nathan Buddle to Maguire, but last season’s top scorer slipped as he made contact with his shot and the ball rolled just wide of the post.
Spartans were given a gift three minutes after the restart, when Stephen O’Halloran’s missed air clearance released Jarrett Rivers in at goal. Opting to take it early, the winger will have rued that decision when he blazed his shot wide of the near post.
A short corner saw Rivers turn provider, when his cross picked out Buddle – as the defender headed the ball down and looked certain to score. However, he was thwarted by an outstanding save from Allinson that nearly richoted back in off O’Halloran, but just about cleared the bar to spare his blushes.
That chance started a frantic few minutes that saw a real spell of entertaining end-to-end football – as United nearly profited from a second Spartans set-piece from the resulting corner.
That man Simoes raced onto a lofted diagonal ball over the top on 51 minutes, but was thwarted by an instinctive stop by Jameson when through one-on-one.
If that save was good, then his next one moments later was unbelievable – as Jameson pulled out a breathtaking one-handed stop to deny Willoughby from seven yards out, after the striker was found in acres of space by Michael Donohue on the right.
With the Croft Park crowd still catching their breath from the frantic back-and-forth exchanges of the previous two minutes, Green bared down on goal and cleverly evaded the slide of Christopher Lynch by laying the ball off to Robert Dale.
Blyth’s captain had drawn level with Stephen Pyle’s haul of 197 goals in the Spartans’ all-time top scorers list with his winner at Southport last Saturday and looked certain to claim second place outright when he danced around his man with the ball at his feet inside the area, but uncharacteristically dragged his shot wide.
Armstrong rolled the dice with a triple change on 55 minutes – as Sean Reid, Bradley Fewster and Adam Wrightson were all introduced to try and inject some impetus into the Spartans’ attack – and it nearly paid off within four minutes. Wrightson slid in to meet Dale’s cross at the near post, but Allinson spread himself well to block the ball away with his body.
Blyth would have to wait until 18 minutes before the end before their next real chance, when Oliver’s free kick made its way back out to Cunningham on the left corner of United’s 18-yard box. The on-loan Hartlepool United man fired a strong strike towards goal from what was uncharted territory for the right-back, but it went straight into the hands of Allinson.
Man of the match Jameson had to be at his best again with seven minutes to go, when a visiting corner was struck towards goal at point-blank range by Willoughby. The former Darlington stopper did well to not only get down to stop the shot, but held onto the ball under pressure as well.
With the end of the 90 minutes approaching, Spartans had a succession of corners that they were unable to do anything of note with and, with what had become an almost familiar tale all afternoon, United raced up the other end to consolidate their victory.
Another breakaway saw the visitors enjoy a three-on-one situation and, once Willoughby’s ball through evaded Michael Liddle’s best efforts to intercept, substitute Lewis Mansell blasted the ball past Jameson to consign the home side to their first defeat in three games.
After another disappointing home defeat, Blyth will hope their enjoyable away travels of late continue when they travel to Brackley next Saturday (3pm kick off.)
Blyth Spartans: Jameson, Cunningham, Liddle, Oliver, Buddle, Laing, Rivers (Wrightson 55), Mullen (Fewster 55), Maguire, Green (Reid 55), Dale.
Subs not used: J Watson, Skirpan.
FC United of Manchester: Allinson, Senior, Thompson, O’Halloran, Lynch, Potts, Simoes (Crawford 77), Wallen, Peers (Mansell 85), Willoughby, Donohue (Banister 66).
Subs not used: Milligan, Baird.
Referee: John Matthews
Spartans Man of the Match: Peter Jameson