The Blue Square North game at the Triton Showers Community Arena Stadium pitted under pressure Blyth Spartans against hosts, the hotly tipped Nuneaton Town.
Numerous chances proliferated in the ensuing 2-2 draw. Those expecting bottom of the table Blyth to be turned over by fourth from top Nuneaton would have been taken aback.
Blyth manager Tommy Cassidy came away from the game disappointed that his battling side had not won the contest.
“A draw away to a team like Nuneaton is good but I feel it’s two points lost rather than a point gained,” he said. “When you’ve been one goal up then 2-1 up we should have won the match. Having said that their supporters told me after the game that they would never have guessed that we were at the bottom of the table and I certainly think that any neutral would have seen little difference between the sides on Saturday. We must take heart from the game which we were in charge of for long periods and which we never deserved to lose”.
Blyth started the game in determined fashion passing the ball well and breaking on the left side through Wayne Phillips on numerous occasions. Forward Graeme Armstrong was causing problems for the home defence while at the other end the hirsute Andy Brown was giving Blyth some hairy moments including an overhead kick which flew just wide of Matt Hunter’s goalpost.
The Spartans took the lead when a forceful run by Neal Hooks released Glen Taylor. The striker looked to have dwelled too long on the ball but still managed to strike a delightful shot high into the top corner on the Nuneaton net.
Cassidy said: “It was a very good goal – in fact, top class. Glen works very hard and he deserved it”.
The Blyth boss was however to be disappointed within five minutes when parity was restored following a free kick awarded just outside the Blyth penalty box.
“It was a bad goal to concede. We were naive. It was obvious that Adam Walker was going to peel away to receive the ball and cross it. Someone should have seen that coming and gone to close him down,” he suggested.
Blyth went ahead again six minutes after the restart. A curling free kick from Bury loanee Max Harrop hit the bar of the home goal and Graeme Armstrong was swiftly on hand to drive the ball home.
“Another top class goal,” thought Cassidy. Within minutes the chances of Blyth seeing out the game seemingly increased when Nuneaton’s James Armson was dismissed. But any sense of security was short lived as, three minutes later, Town’s Simon Forsdick shot straight at Matt Hunter in the Blyth goal. Hunter appeared to get down well to collect the ball but tragically let it slip through his body and in to the back of the net.
“Matt apologised to all the lads after the game,” said Cassidy. “If that hadn’t have gone in I think we would have gone on and won the game but that sort of thing sometimes happens to goalkeepers and Matt otherwise had a really good game. He’s a young lad and will learn.
“The period which followed, against the ten men, was actually our poorest of the game. A lot goes on in players’ heads at our level when that happens. Sometimes they start going through the motions thinking it will be straightforward. We lost our way a little and we definitely looked better when we were pressing and more in their faces.
“A good example was when Wayne Phillips was constantly taking on the right back. I believe in doing against the opposition what they don’t want you to do and that’s what Wayne did by running at them and getting crosses in early”.
Richie Slaughter and Jami Mole replaced Shaun Utterson and Graeme Armstrong for the final 25 minutes as Cassidy attempted to breath new life in to his side.
“Shaun hasn’t played for a while and Graeme was exhausted having worked so hard,” he said.
Chances continued at both ends and it was Blyth who had the best opportunity to grab the win when a perceptive ball from Mole found Taylor 20 yards out, in space, but he blazed over.
Cassidy drew several positives from the performance.
“We have moved to second from bottom now but, more significantly, seven or eight of our lads put in a really good shift at the weekend. We did well at Boston last Saturday and again at Nuneaton, so why can’t we do that every week? Those types of performances give us hope and confidence. I’m much happier than I was two weeks ago. I know the rest of the season will be difficult but we’ll keep at it and I’m sure other teams around us will drop points.
“Two weeks ago we only had 14 players but now we’re better off but we still need more. I’d like to strengthen across the pitch. We need a plan for if we go down and one for if we stay up. I’m applying myself to those”.
Regular goalkeeper David Knight was left out of the team on Saturday. Northern Ireland international player Cassidy commented: “David tells me he has a shoulder problem but also that he can play. That’s Irish! I’m giving him time to recover – last week and this one, and then we’ll see how he is”.