Following Tuesday night’s fiery performance in taking three points from Championship challenging AFC Telford Blyth Spartans were strangely lethargic on Saturday when they entertained Stafford Rangers. At least they were until manager Harry Dunn delivered a rousing battle cry at half time which turned the game around and helped deliver another precious victory which hauled the Spartans just out of the Blue Square North relegation zone.
“We actually started the game quite well with Adrian Webster firing wide and Richard Pell getting a good header in but then we fell apart” said Dunn.
“We were terrible – slow to get to the ball, we passed poorly and were generally second best. It was one of our worst 45 minutes of the season and by half time and a goal down I could see us losing the game.
“We could have been two down at half time if Paul Farman hadn’t pulled off a great save to deny McNiven his second.”
Blyth went behind on 29 minutes when the dangerous David McNiven escaped the attentions of the Blyth defence and neatly tucked the ball beyond Farman in the home goal.
“ I had a good go at the defence but also the midfield and forwards at the break” added Dunn.
“We needed to start to perform to our potential and make sure we didn’t lose the game and that’s what we did in a much improved second half.”
It was much more focussed showing from Blyth who went on to equalise through a stunning 35 yard effort from midfielder Gary Brown which whistled into the top corner of the Stafford net with goalkeeper Tim Sandercombe rooted to the spot.
The Spartans continued to push forward with a new urgency and intent. Following a near miss by Webster Blyth went 2-1 up when Rangers’ Stuart Pierpoint headed in to his own goal.
Dunn commented “ I thought we should have put Sandercombe under more pressure than we did, he looked a bit shaky and we could have won by a bigger margin but in the end we deserved our win and extended our unbeaten run to six games.”
The Blyth boss was unhappy however with the tackle Pierpoint put in on Robbie Dale late in the game, possibly out of frustration following his earlier misdemeanour.
“He chased Robbie for ten yards and then scythed him down!”
The resulting yellow card did not satisfy Dunn who thought a straight red was the required punishment.
A namesake of the Stafford player was a famous British hangman and, quite rightly, FA laws preclude referees from being able to mete out this kind of punishment but a red card would surely have been entirely appropriate in the circumstances.
Dunn had to agree though that his Captain Gareth Williams deserved to be sent off following two yellow cards. The first was for a late challenge and the second resulted from Williams having to hold back a Stafford player as he burst forward threatening a late equaliser.
Blyth travel to Greater Manchester to take on playoff hopefuls Stalybridge on Tuesday with Dunn having to make at least one difficult decision. Regular goalkeeper Mark Bell has returned to fitness and will be challenging the on-form Farman for the keeper’s top.
“You never know how Stalybridge are going to play,” suggested Dunn. “They can be brilliant or poor but, however they play, with the players they have we’ll have problems if we sit off them. We will need to be up for it from the first minute – unlike on Saturday.”
The Spartans are on their travels next Saturday too when they head down the M1 to play bottom club Hucknall. Dunn is hoping to have influential midfielder Chris McCabe back for the game following a hamstring problem.
Blyth have resigned Craig Price who will be available to boost the squad for evening fixtures and Dunn intends to hold talks this week with Ryton’s forward or midfield player Stephen Shaw. He also hopes to make one or two more signings before the end of March transfer deadline.