Blyth Spartans bounced back to winning ways on Saturday afternoon with a resolute 2-1 victory against Hereford in front of 865 fans at Croft Park courtesy of goals from Charlie Aitken and Michael Liddle.
Aitken was called into action to replace JJ Hooper who had to be withdrawn due to injury during the first half, and the 17-year-old certainly made his mark scoring his first competitive goal for the Club in just his second appearance after he made his debut from the bench against Scarborough Athletic during midweek.
Harry Arnison replaced Jordan Hickey inside the final 10 minutes of the clash to make his competitive bow for Spartans after suffering an injury in the final pre-season friendly fixture of the schedule ahead of the National League North campaign.
The opening proceedings to the clash saw most of the action tussled out in possession between the two sides before the first effort on goal came from the visitors on 10 minutes.
Adam Livingstone created an opening inside the penalty area by advancing forward from his left fullback role and curled a strike wide of Alex Mitchell’s post; 10 minutes later he found himself in a similar position but yet again failed to find the target as he dragged an attempt wide on his favoured left foot.
Spartans registered their first danger on goal just after 21 minutes as Curtis Pond was put under pressure by JJ Hooper when punching Nicky Deverdics’ enticing cross away; Will McGowan was then positioned to strike the loose ball on goal but saw his low effort blocked at point blank range.
A blow for Graham Fenton’s side occurred before the half-hour mark as Hooper pulled up with an injury which resulted in him being replaced by 17-year-old Charlie Aitken.
Lewis Knight utilised his electric pace moments later as he latched onto a searching long ball forward from Harrison Clark to strike first time, however, the Gateshead loanee’s effort trickled narrowly wide.
On 34 minutes, Aitken broke the deadlock as he fired in a low shot inside the penalty area which took a deflection to wrong foot Pond in the Hereford goal following a sumptuous short corner routine orchestrated by Knight and Deverdics.
Only six minutes later, though, Jason Cowley steered in a shot from 20-yards to draw the scoreline level, leaving Mitchell at full stretch and very little chance to claw the ball away before nestling in the back of the net.
During the six minutes of added time at the end of the first half, Knight was presented with two opportunities to regain the lead for Spartans.
Firstly, his tricky, weaving run which set him into the penalty area was dispossessed at the crucial moment before being able to pull the trigger on goal, before Jordan Hickey’s excellent chipped cross could not be converted with a clean contact to trouble Pond from point blank range.
Half-time: Blyth Spartans 1-1 Hereford
Inside the opening minute of second half action, both Aitken and Elliot Forbes had efforts on goal which were blocked and snuffed out, before Hereford’s Alex Babos hit a volley first time on the edge of the box which wildly spiralled off target.
After persistent attacking play involving Rhys Evans on the right flank who eventually crossed into the penalty area, Deverdics then collected the ball into his touch before linking up with Will McGowan, the latter teed up the on-rushing Michael Liddle on 53 minutes to cannon a left-footed strike into the bottom corner past the helpless Pond from the edge of the box to regain the lead for Spartans.
Jordan Cranston was set into the penalty area for the visitors three minutes later and forced Mitchell into a low save down to his right hand side seeing the Spartans shot-stopper preserve the advantage as Hereford aimed to strike back quickly as they did for their equalising goal.
Deverdics lined up a free-kick from 35-yards just prior to the hour and drove a powerful strike which rose just over Pond’s crossbar.
On 61 minutes, Knight produced a seamless first touch to set the ball out of his feet in the final third and unleashed a strike on goal destined for Pond’s bottom left corner of the net, however, Hereford’s ‘keeper strongly parried away the attempt to safety.
With just under 15 minutes left of the regulated 90, Babos crafted a sighting on goal to let loose a dangerous strike which forced Mitchell to tip over the crossbar.
The Bulls persisted with pressure as the game neared its conclusion – forcing Finn Cousin-Dawson to cover extremely well to take the ball off the tip of Hereford substitute Koby Arthurs before he could test Mitchell at the pivotal moment.
A deft flick from Knight over a Hereford defender set him in on goal where he flashed an effort just over the crossbar as Pond aimed to rush out and close the angle down on 85 minutes.
Mitchell was yet again switched on to produce a point-blank stop at the back post to deny Lassana Mendes’ header just before seven minutes of additional time were indicated.
Effortless running and stamina enabled Knight to split The Bulls’ defence open on two occasions which saw another two low strikes saved brilliantly one-on-one by Pond before the Hereford ‘keeper advanced into the Blyth penalty area to head wide a last ditch corner.
Full-time: Blyth Spartans 2-1 Hereford
Blyth Spartans: Alex Mitchell, Rhys Evans, Harrison Clark, Finn Cousin-Dawson, Michael Liddle, Elliot Forbes, Jordan Hickey (Harry Arnison, 82′), Will McGowan, Nicky Deverdics, Lewis Knight, JJ Hooper (Charlie Aitken, 27′).
Subs not used: Jon Shaw, Joe Oliver and Michael Hogan.
Goals | Charlie Aitken 34′ and Michael Liddle 53′
Hereford: Curtis Pond, Adam Livingstone (Connor Stanley, 60′), Aaron Skinner, Aurio Teixeira, Alex Babos, Jason Cowley (Koby Arthurs, 46′), Jordan Cranston, Lassana Mendes, Adam Rooney (Tom Hewlett, 65′), Nathan Cameron, Kyle Hawkins.
Subs not used: Sonny Singh and Oliver Southern.
Goals | Jason Cowley 40′
Attendance | 865
Referee: Lewis Dawson
The victory on Saturday afternoon elevated Graham Fenton’s side to third in the National League North standings, with three wins from four cumulating nine points out of a possible 12.
Blyth Spartans next face off against Buxton away from home to kick off the August bank holiday weekend before welcoming Spennymoor Town 48 hours later on Monday afternoon at Croft Park.