Northern Premier League 
11th October 2016, 7:45 PM
Matlock Town
0 - 0
Blyth Spartans
Causeway Lane
Attendance: 281

Match Report

By Glen Maxwell

In association with:
ALAN McLEAN FCMA CGMA
Chartered Management Accountant

Evo-Stik Premier League
Tuesday October 11 2016

Matlock Town 0-0 Blyth Spartans

Much has been written about the 300 Spartans that fought bravely against the forces of the Persian Empire, but this was a tale of one Spartan who held off an army of Gladiators – as Adam McHugh produced a scintillating display to ensure Blyth’s trip to Matlock Town remained goalless.

Andrew Cartwright had already hacked one off the line, before Nathan Buddle conceded a 39th minute penalty. McHugh employed mind games to put off Michael Williams, before saving his resulting spot-kick.

That save inspired a super-human performance from Spartans’ keeper – as Blyth were able to thwart a dominant Matlock side from claiming all three points in this Evo-Stik Premier League clash.

Alun Armstrong opted for an unchanged starting line-up from that which devastated Mickleover Sports in the first half of Saturday’s 3-0 win, in the hope that history would repeat itself in this clash against Matlock.

Both sides started at a frantic pace – with the two sides seeing plenty of the ball in the early stages – but it was Matlock that had the first chance of the night. Ted Cribley swung in a free-kick from the left in the third minute, but Robert Dale rose up above the Matlock forwards and headed clear at the near post.

A set-piece would also present Spartans with their first opportunity to score, when they won a corner two minutes later. Matty Pattison put a ball in from the right and found Buddle in the middle. The 23-year-old got a header away under pressure, but was unable to keep it on target.

If Blyth thought they had gone close to breaking the deadlock, then Matlock had almost started to celebrate in the tenth minute – as Curtis Morrison got in down the right-hand side. The striker placed his shot past McHugh and had almost started to run off in celebration, but Cartwright booted the ball away with a goal-line clearance to deny Matlock an opener.

Cribley then cut out Buddle’s clearance on halfway and advanced into the Blyth half, before opting to shoot from 30 yards. However, his effort went well wide of the goal and out of the ground.

Blyth had the ball back up the other end in under a minute and were desperately unlucky not to test Phil Barnes in the Matlock goal. Luke Armstrong drilled a low cross into Sean Reid at the near post, but Reid misjudged the path of the ball and was unable to get a goalbound touch on the pass.

Matlock looked more than comfortable on home soil and were playing some fantastic football, to the point that they passed the ball all the way up the park to Morrison at the edge of the area. The pacy striker looked to put the cherry on top of Town’s tremendous passage of play, but his shot produced only a comfortable stop from McHugh.

While Matlock began to enjoy more of the possession as the game approached the half-hour mark, they were nearly caught out when Pattison looked to play in Armstrong. A timely interception went only as far as Reid, who fired wide from long-range.

Reid was then the intended target for Jarrett Rivers’ right-wing cross, when he drilled a ball in front of the forward. Despite his best efforts to power home a header, Reid was desperately unlucky not to meet the ball on the edge of the six-yard box.

Blyth thought their luck was in once more, when Buddle’s blasted clearance perfectly picked out Armstrong in the Matlock area. However, before the young forward could turn and shoot, the assistant had his flag raised for offside.

Next up was a superb dancing run down the wing by the left winger. While this is a familiar sight for Blyth fans with Dale, it was – in fact – Cribley who channeled his inner Spartans skipper.

Cribley shot straight at McHugh after going through the visiting side’s backline, forcing the keeper to spill his effort. Marc Newsham looked to profit from the loose ball but, luckily for Blyth, he was stood in an offside position.

Matlock began to crank up the pressure and looked to have been rewarded for their hard work when Morrison was hauled down by Buddle in the box – as Tom Kirk had no hesitation but to point to the spot six minutes before the break.

Michael Williams stepped up to take the penalty, but McHugh employed some mind games by moving the ball after it had been placed. The Spartans’ keeper had obviously got inside the head of Williams – as he dived well to his left to save his second penalty of the season and preserve his clean sheet.

If McHugh had thought his work for the half was done with that stop, then he was mistaken – as he was called into action again just two minutes later. A low cross from the left was fired first time towards goal by Niall McManus, but McHugh instinctively pulled off another spectacular save and allowed Spartans to go in level at half-time.

While it was all go at the end of the first half, the second period struggled to get going – as both sides were bogged down by a series of fouls inside the opening 10 minutes. However, there were then chances at both ends to suggest that this game was about to spring back into life.

Dale tried to pick out Armstrong with a fantastic lofted through ball, but the youngster was denied a run at goal because of a desperate defensive header by Dwayne Wiley.

Matlock then broke through Cribley, who raced onto Matthew Wade’s poor pass behind Cartwright. The ball made its way to Morrison, but he wasted the simplest of chances to convert – as Blyth received yet another let-off from Town’s forwards.

Blyth were on the back foot from another Matlock break on 68 minutes – as the hosts raced up the pitch from Rivers’ corner, despite the best efforts of Cartwright and Michael Liddle – as the former received a yellow card for his late challenge in the build-up.

The ball ended up with Morrison, who shot at goal from a tight angle across McHugh. The goalkeeper kept up his fantastic showing with a superb fingertip save to flick the ball away from its intended target.

Joe Doyle-Charles was next to go close for the home side, when he was picked out in the box by Cribley’s free-kick. The defender got his head to the ball, but was unable to get enough on it to really trouble McHugh.

While no problems were caused by that set-piece, Matlock once again thought they’d finally took the lead with 13 minutes to go. Nico de Girolamo met Cribley’s corner at the near post, but his header was punched off the line by the in-form McHugh.

It’s very rare that someone can run out of superlatives for a goalkeeper’s performance, but McHugh was trying his best to make that happen – as he kept Matlock at bay once more on 80 minutes. Cribley fired a fierce strike from 25 yards, but Spartans’ number one was able to tip it over with another great save.

With the game approaching the end, Matlock pushed the troops forward in hope of one final assault. However, McManus could only fire wide across goal with the game’s last chance.

Blyth dug in for a valuable point against a very disciplined Town side and they will no doubt take confidence from this, when they travel to Hednesford Town on Saturday.

Matlock Town: Barnes, de Girolamo, Pursehouse, Doyle-Charles, A Yates, Wiley, McManus, Williams, Newsham, Morrison, Cribley.
Subs not used: J Yates, Wilson, Todd, Bartie, Jameson.

Blyth Spartans: McHugh, Cartwright (Nicholson 70), Liddle, Buddle, Hutchinson, Wade, Rivers (Richardson 83), Pattison, Armstrong, Reid (Turnbull 59), Dale.
Subs not used: Bell, Caines.

Referee: Tom Kirk

Attendance: 281

Spartans Man of the Match: Adam McHugh

“Outstanding” McHugh Hailed By Blyth Boss After Deserved Draw in Derbyshire

Alun Armstrong singled out the “outstanding” performance of man of the match goalkeeper Adam McHugh after the 0-0 draw at Matlock Town, but he also felt the performances from all of his players meant Blyth Spartans fully deserved a share of the spoils.

McHugh thwarted Michael Williams by saving his spot-kick in the 39th minute, before he produced a highlight reel of fantastic saves throughout the rest of the game – in order to ensure that Blyth claimed a point in their Evo-Stik Premier League clash with the Gladiators.

And Armstrong was quick to praise his keeper’s fantastic showing, but he also revealed that he was happy with the performance of all his players on Tuesday night – after a four-hour trip down to Derbyshire.

Armstrong said: “I thought Adam McHugh was outstanding. Whatever he needed to do, he did. He’s made a number of good saves, he saved a penalty – which I didn’t think was a penalty, mind – he stood up throughout the game and did really well.

“I’m chuffed to bits for the lads – as I thought the work ethic they put in and they got the result they deserved.

“It was definitely a point gained, without a shadow of a doubt. I said to the lads that they did extremely well – considering some of them didn’t finish work until 4pm and then had to drive straight down, before going straight out onto the pitch and having to perform like they did.

“I think we deserved a point at the end, even though they did have a fair few chances; albeit few clear-cut chances.”

McHugh produced a fantastic instinctive save not long after his penalty heroics to help Blyth come off level at the break. He was called upon much more frequently in the second half, but ensured that his clean sheet would be preserved with a number of impressive stops between the sticks.

The Blyth boss was under no illusion that McHugh’s performance was the main factor of his side claiming a point, but he hopes that Spartans’ number one can inspire confidence in his defenders going forward – after what he knew would be a tricky test on Tuesday night.

The 41-year-old said: “Sometimes, that’s what you need; you need a confidence boost from your goalkeeper. Adam could go away from the game and think ‘I’ve earned my side a point tonight’.

“Now, the lads will look behind and know they have someone they can rely on. I’m really pleased with the result – following a long midweek trip to get down to Matlock.

“We dominated against Mickleover on Saturday, we had so much of the ball and used a lot of energy. Then, to make that sort of trip on a Tuesday night – after the lads have all been at work – and travel four hours before having to go out and play against a side doing well, it was always going to be a hard one.

“They have their tails up at the minute – as they’re looking forward to their game on Saturday – and they had a lot of pace, so were quite direct. We couldn’t get our football game going with it being so hectic in there, but we’ll take a point from that and move on to the next game.”

Due to the club’s scheduled trip to Nantwich Town being postponed on October 1 – thanks to the Dabbers’ FA Cup commitments – the game against Matlock saw the former Ipswich Town and Middlesbrough striker take to the away dugout as manager for the first time.

Despite being used to arriving to any amount of away grounds throughout his playing career, Armstrong admitted that he is still getting used to the non-league scene but revealed he is enjoying the experience so far.

He added: “It’s really tough, but I’m going to have to get used to it – as I’m still trying to remember the change from professional to nonprofessional. It’s strange for me, but I’m really enjoying it.

“I enjoyed the whole experience against Matlock, even though we didn’t play as well as I know we can. I could see the lads were there for each other though and working hard for one another, which is what I’ve been telling them I want to see.

“We kept another clean sheet and, if you can keep that up, you’re going to win more games than you losing by doing that. We’ve done that in the last two games and we might even have nicked a one at the end another day, had we taken one of our chances.”

That clean sheet was Blyth’s third in four games since Armstrong’s appointment and – despite a blip against Warrington in a 3-0 drubbing – the new manager has learnt from his mistakes already and is looking for his side to present problems to the opposition by performing to their best.

“My first thing when I came in was that we had to stop conceding goals and I’ve set us up to play 4-4-2 three times and we haven’t conceded a goal. We’ve played 4-3-3 once and conceded three goals, so that tells me something straight away; don’t expect us to be playing 4-3-3 any time soon,” Armstrong joked.

“I think the lads have had so much success with 4-3-3 over the last four years, that they thought we could carry on and play our football with this formation. However, they forget that people can suss you out quite quickly and – for the teams we play against – it’s normally 4-4-2 that you’re up against, be it a diamond in midfield or with the two wide lads.

“I would back us man-for-man against anybody – as long as they keep working hard. We’ve got that extra little bit of quality, so I’m really looking forward to Saturday – as long as we can perform like I know we can once again.”

This new-look Spartans side has managed to somewhat stop the rot that saw them ship nine goals in just three games last month, but now have problems at the other end instead – as they have only managed three goals in their last four games, with all of them coming in the win over Mickleover Sports last Saturday. However, that hasn’t stopped Armstrong from stating that Blyth can return from Hednesford with all three points in Blyth’s next game.

Armstrong said: “We want to be hard to beat, but we need to start creating chances as well. Matlock was purely about coming away with something, but we’ll be looking to build on that at the weekend and try and go for the win at Hednesford.

“It will be a really tough game and another long trip for us, but we’ll have a look at what we’ve got and work on some things at training on Thursday – as we want to be ready to go again on Saturday.

“Without a doubt, we’ll be trying to go for all three points on Saturday. We need them.”

Blyth’s struggle for goals has coincided with the calf injury suffered by top scorer Daniel Maguire during the 0-0 draw with Spennymoor Town,  which was Armstrong’s first game in charge. Therefore, the news that the striker could be close to a return will be a relief to the Spartans’ gaffer, who hopes that the 23-year-old might be available for Saturday’s trip to the Midlands.

Armstrong said: “Again, we’ll see how Nipa is on Thursday. He hasn’t trained with the team since it happened, but we’ll see what he’s like and we might get a little bit out of him at training this week – as long as he’s had no reactions during the week.

“Fingers crossed we have him available but, if not Saturday, then we’ll look to the next game for him. He is a big miss – as, like I’ve said before, he’s completely different to everyone one else that we’ve got.

“I think, had we had Danny available for Matlock, we would have had a bit more creativity and a little bit more support for the lads up top – as he causes defences all sorts of problems when he plays.”

Lineup

Name GLS AST PENS OG CS RAT Cards
11 Robbie Dale (c)

Subs

Name GLS AST PENS OG CS RAT Cards
Stephen Turnbull ← Sean Reid
Michael Richardson ← Jarrett Rivers
Alex Nicholson ← Andrew Cartwright