Northern Premier League 
15th October 2016, 3:00 PM
Hednesford Town
1 - 2
Blyth Spartans
Keys Park
Attendance: 465

Match Report

By Glen Maxwell

In association with:
ALAN McLEAN FCMA CGMA
Chartered Management Accountant

Evo-Stik Premier League
Saturday October 15 2016

Hednesford Town 1-2 Blyth Spartans

Blyth Spartans battled to a deserved 2-1 win over third-placed Hednesford Town but nicked the winner in fortunate circumstances – after Luke Armstrong diverted the ball in following Calum Flanigan’s attempted tackle.

Sean Reid had given Blyth a second half lead with an outstanding long-range effort, before Daniel Maguire made a much-awaited return from injury off the bench. Spartans’ joy was cut short moments later though – as Hednesford substitute Gurjit Singh’s strike deflected in to level the scores.

However, with the game entering the final ten minutes, Flanagan found his luck wanting – as he watched the ball bounce in off Armstrong when he attempted to win possession back for his side, to give Blyth another important Evo-Stik Premier League win.

Alex Nicholson and Stephen Turnbull were the two changes from Tuesday night’s battling draw at Matlock – as they replaced Andrew Cartwright and Jarrett Rivers respectively. Matty Pattison was moved out wide, with Turnbull being deployed alongside Matthew Wade in central midfield.

The home side hit their stride straight from the start and created the first chance of the game within the opening two minutes.

Ashley Sammons’ weak shot from the right ran straight into the path of Tristian Dunkley, who had his back to goal. The striker tried to turn and shoot, but his effort was well off target.

Blyth responded with an intricate attacking move, which nearly resulted in them breaking the deadlock with just six minutes gone – as Michael Liddle forced the game’s first corner. Turnbull picked out Nathan Buddle perfectly from the set-piece, but the 23-year-old’s powerful header just cleared the crossbar.

Pattison had scored a 25-yard wonder strike in the 3-0 win over Mickleover Sports and he nearly did again for the second Saturday in a row on ten minutes, when he picked the ball up from a throw-in. He cut inside and fired a rocket at the Hednesford goal, but Dan Crane was able to tip it over with a fine save.

Blyth were starting to make their mark on the contest, but were close to falling behind through some fortunate Hednesford play in the 17th minute.

A hopeful clearance from the defence bounced over the top of Buddle and fell into the path of Dunkley. His shot took a deflection that wrong-footed Adam McHugh, but the ball bounced just wide of the upright.

The two sides began to trade blows and both went close to creating an opening just prior to the 25th minute.

Danny Glover’s 25-yard free-kick was fired straight into the Blyth wall, but Hednesford played it around in the area and the ball ended up with Dunkley at the back post. However, with the goal at his mercy, the striker could fire horribly wide once again.

A searing run down the right from Alex Nicholson was thwarted by Cohen Bramall’s back pass, but he was unable to connect with it properly and picked out Luke Armstrong in the box instead. The young forward attempted a shot under pressure from Calum Flanagan, but he couldn’t keep his strike on target.

Another run from Nicholson presented the visitors with another opening – as he carried on after passing the ball of to Armstrong. Armstrong looked to return the ball to the right-back in the box, but he played a low ball just behind Nicholson and the chance was snuffed out.

With 10 minutes of the first half to go, Spartans could have been forgiven for thinking they were going to take the lead – after Armstrong looked to have profited from some calamitous keeping from Crane. He got just too much on his touch across goal when faced with an open goal and, by the time he had recovered to take a shot, Crane was able to dive at his feet.

Despite the majority of the chances beginning to fall at Blyth’s feet, the hosts were happy to remind Spartans that they were still a threat going forward – as George Carline went on a run down the left. Opting to shoot instead of crossing to a teammate, McHugh had to show safe hands to deny him and the lurking Dunkley of a potential rebound tap-in.

Five minutes before the break, Pattison was fouled 25 yards out from goal. The former South African international stepped up to take it himself, but his strike just eluded the top corner and hit the side netting instead.

Both sides had obviously been invigorated by the break, with chances at both ends with two minutes of the restart.

Liddle was played in following a one-two with Dale on the left, but unselfishly cut the ball back. His pass picked out Sean Reid, but a block took his shot away from goal.

While Blyth’s left-back opted not to shoot from the left, Hednesford’s Bramall couldn’t say the same. While his effort went across McHugh, it couldn’t find the inside of the far post.

A Hednesford free-kick then nearly gave them the lead on 52 minutes, when Glover floated a lovely ball into the back post from the right. James Mutton jumped up to meet it with a bullet header, but he connected a bit too well and the ball cleared the bar.

With 56 minutes gone, the Blyth bench were on their feet shouting for a penalty.

A one-two between Nicholson and Pattison saw the former bearing down on goal, before being brought down in the area. Despite the loud shouts from the dugout, referee N Pratt chose to ignore them and signalled for play to continue.

Less than 60 seconds later, the Spartans’ management team would have their heads in their hands once more – after a fantastic save denied Blyth a goal.

Reid picked the ball up deep and looked to have placed one beautifully into the bottom left corner of the Hednesford goal. However, Crane got down well to palm the ball behind with a great stop.

The visitors went close once more from the resulting corner – after Buddle headed the ball back across goal at the back post. A half-clearance fell to a waiting Dale on the penalty spot, but his fierce strike was deflected wide.

Hednesford made an attacking change on 67 minutes – as they replaced Dunkley with Jamie Matthews – but the substitute had been on the pitch a mere few seconds before Blyth took a deserved lead.

Reid battled with the ball through the home side’s ranks, before unleashing another rocket destined for the bottom left corner. While it took a fantastic stop to deny Reid earlier in the second half, Crane had no answer for this one – as he could only watch as it flew past his outstretched fingertips.

If that goal was enjoyed by the vocal travelling Spartans army, then the return of top scorer Daniel Maguire moments later would have been an even more welcome sight for those in attendance – as he took to the field in place of Reid, for his first appearance since suffering a calf injury last month.

Coincidentally, an attacking change was soon followed by a goal for the opposition yet again – as Hednesford drew level with 13 minutes to go. Singh was afforded too much time and space at the edge of the area – after receiving a pass from the right – and his strike was able to beat McHugh, thanks to a hefty deflection off a Blyth body.

Spartans might have been cursing their luck at that deflection, but the visitors soon received a massive slice of luck themselves – as Armstrong scored the winner without knowing very much about it.

The striker appeared to have been played in following some good work from strike partner Maguire, but got the ball caught up in his feet with Crane advancing. However, Flanagan’s attempt to intervene saw the ball bobble off Armstrong’s leg and the Hednesford defence were helpless to stop it rolling over the line.

Having dug his side out of danger already, Singh opted to try again from the edge of the area. While the substitute might have had the better of McHugh once, the Spartans’ stopper produced another magnificent save to palm the ball to safety this time.

Blyth had another shout for a penalty ruled out in the last minute, but it had no bearing on the result – as Spartans were able to hold out comfortably for a valuable three points.

Alun Armstrong won’t have long to celebrate his first away win as manager, however – as Blyth play host to Ilkeston Town on Tuesday night.

Hednesford Town: Crane, Wright, Bramall, Maye, Mutton, Flanagan, Sammons (Singh 69), Thorley, Glover (Logan 74), Dunkley (Matthews 67), Carline.
Subs not used: Ransome, Williams.

Blyth Spartans: McHugh, Nicholson (Cartwright 82), Liddle, Wade, Buddle, Hutchinson, Pattison (Richardson 86), Turnbull, Armstrong, Reid (Maguire 73), Dale.
Subs not used: Rivers, Caines.

Referee: N Pratt

Attendance: 465

Spartans Man of the Match: Sean Reid

Armstrong Delighted Controlled Spartans Display Rewarded With Hednesford Win

Alun Armstrong was delighted to see his Blyth Spartans side follow his game plan perfectly during Saturday’s 2-1 win over high-flying Hednesford Town – as he applauded the way in which the visitors controlled proceedings at Keys Park.

Sean Reid’s spectacular finish from long-range gave Spartans a second half lead, before he made way for the returning Daniel Maguire – with Blyth’s top scorer for this season featuring for the first time since picking up a calf injury against Spennymoor Town in the new manager’s first game in charge last month.

The Pitmen drew level through substitute Gurjit Singh’s deflected strike, but Blyth couldn’t complain at that bit of luck – as, with nine minutes left, Calum Flanagan’s attempted tackle on Luke Armstrong in the box resulted in the ball rebounding into the net off the striker’s leg.

Even though there was fortunate goals at both ends, Armstrong senior was happy with the dominating display that eventually saw his side claim all three Evo-Stik Premier League points.

Armstrong said: “I thought we thoroughly controlled the game. They had one direct bit of play, where they hit the 11 and had runners off him, but we were able to deal with that and they had nothing else to offer really.

“We controlled the game throughout and everyone defended extremely well. We did our jobs in possession and it was only when we switched off that their full-backs were able to get in.

“On an attacking front, I thought we were much better and we caused them all sorts of problems. They were just chucking the ball anywhere, so it says a lot – as we were able to turn a good footballing side into a really direct one, purely because of the pressure we put them under from the front.”

With Hednesford sat third in the table prior to kick-off, a tough game was expected against the recently relegated Vanarama National League North side. However, the Blyth boss heaped special praise to forwards Reid and Armstrong for disrupting their opponent’s play throughout the game – in a game where he also welcomed striker Maguire back off the bench.

Armstrong added: “That was the game plan – to try and get them to stop playing – and Luke and Reidy did fantastically well in that part of the game.

“I have to give those two lads full credit, because they ran their socks off to the point that they were both blowing up. I could have done with taking them both off really.

“Reidy came off at the time and Nipa [Maguire] gives us something completely different, which leads to him setting up a goal for Luke.

“Both the lads deserved their goals against Hednesford but, now I’ve got the three of them, I’m looking forward to rotating them.”

With Armstrong preferring a 4-4-2 formation so far during his tenure, one of his forwards will be forced to sit out Tuesday’s home game against Ilkeston and – with all three seemingly in-form at present – he will no doubt suffer a selection headache when deciding which of the three to drop.

Armstrong admitted: “It’ll be harsh on whoever misses out. We’ve done extremely well in the last few games.

“Yes, we’ve not scored as many goals as we’d like, but they’ve done the other things they need to out of possession. It’s not just about going forward, you need to do the defensive duties as well and the two lads we’ve had up there recently have done fantastically well.

“Again, Nipa’s back now and he knows the roles he’s going to be playing. We’ll be working on those in training and the three of them will give me a selection problem for the upcoming games.”

While his strikers were firing on all cylinders, Armstrong was frustrated to see his side concede for the first time in the four games he has opted to play 4-4-2. However, he took heart from the fact that Adam McHugh was only beaten because of a deflection on Singh’s shot.

He said: “The longer you keep a clean sheet, the more chance you have of winning the game. It’s common sense really and that’s what I’ve been saying to the lads.

“I was gutted when we conceded today and, to be honest, Adam was fantastic once again but their goal was a massive deflection. It takes a little bit of the shine off that we conceded, but it’s taken that deflection for someone to finally beat us using this set-up.

“We look organised, everyone knows their roles and that’s the first thing I wanted to get put back into this side: getting everyone to know what they’re doing out of possession and be hard to beat, because I know we have enough quality going forward.”

Despite good spells of attacking pressure, Blyth looked destined to draw a blank when Reid was denied a spectacular goal by an equally impressive save by Dan Crane. However, the lofty striker was not to be denied – as he left the goalkeeper with no chance with a similar effort less than ten minutes later, for which his gaffer had nothing but praise for.

Armstrong said: “It was a great goal. Not long before that, he had one in a similar situation and the keeper pulled off a great save.

“I had my head in my hands, to be honest with you – as I thought it was going to be one of those days where we weren’t going to get a goal. Reidy kept on – even though I could see he was starting to tire – and he turned the lad brilliantly.

“It was a great bit of skill to turn and get away from him and he’s struck it really sweet. He deserved his goal to be fair, for the work he put in.”

While Reid’s was a spectacular strike, Armstrong’s was as fortunate as they come – as he profited from a goal-bound deflection for the second time in a week for the winner. However, his father revealed that the 20-year-old has been reaping the reward for his instinctive nature and just having the knack of knowing where to be to get goals.

Armstrong explained: “Obviously, I’ve watched Luke since he started playing football at six or seven years old and he’s always scored those type of goals. I keep saying to people that you have to be in the right place at the right time and it doesn’t matter if it’s one of those or a 30-yard screamer, all goals count as one.

“You go and ask any centre-forward what type of goals they like and it’s always the little tap-ins that are the best. Yes, you get the acclaim for a great strike but if you score the winner via a ricochet off your backside, it doesn’t matter; they all count.

“That’s what Luke does; he keeps getting in and, if there’s a chance, he never gives in. He’s done it all of his life, he’s got in those positions to score goals all the way from junior football and he’s still doing it.

“As I say, it’s just having that knack of being in the right place at the right time and you can’t teach that.”

Following the change back to 4-4-2 from a disastrous attempt at 4-3-3 that gifted Warrington Town a 3-0 win, Blyth have won two and drawn one of their last three games – including a breath-taking first half display in the 3-0 home win over Mickleover Sports. With Ilkeston making the trip up to the Northumbrian coastline on Tuesday night, Armstrong can’t wait to get back to enjoying home comforts once more.

Armstrong said: “I’m looking forward to walking back out at Croft Park – as, the last time we were there, the lads produced an outstanding performance and we’ve built on it. I’m delighted to have taken seven points from a possible nine, so I’m chuffed to bits with the way we’ve responded to that defeat to Warrington.

“I’m glad that the lads have taken what I’ve said on board. They know what’s expected of them and they know what they need to do to win games now.

“None of these games are going to be easy; they’re all going to be tough. Everyone can see we’re a good footballing side, but we need to match the work-rate of whoever we play against.

“No one has a divine right to go out and play football, they have to work hard for it. That’s what we’ve done and we’ve earned the rewards from it.”

Lineup

Name GLS AST PENS OG CS RAT Cards
1
1
11 Robbie Dale (c)

Subs

Name GLS AST PENS OG CS RAT Cards
Andrew Cartwright ← Alex Nicholson
9 Dan Maguire ← Sean Reid
Michael Richardson ← Matty Pattison