By Craig Dobson
In association with:
ALAN McLEAN FCMA CGMA
Chartered Management Accountant
Vanarama National League North
Tuesday, February 22nd 2022
SOUTHPORT 2-3 BLYTH SPARTANS
Blyth Spartans ended their four-game National League North winless streak in stunning fashion on Tuesday evening, deservedly defeating playoff hopefuls Southport 3-2 at Haig Avenue.
Three superb goals from Patrick Almond, JJ O’Donnell and Lewis McNall saw Terry Mitchell’s men overcome the Sandgrounders, who were dominated for much of the match by the visitors.
Mitchell made four largely enforced changes to the side that lost at home to Kettering Town on Saturday. Skipper Nathan Buddle, Sean Reid, Connor Thomson and Karl Byrne returned to the starting line-up, with Almond and Byrne operating at right-back and left-back respectively.
The hosts’ early gameplan saw the Spartans ‘keeper and backline tested from a barrage of early set pieces. Having posed problems from dead ball situations, it came as no surprise when Southport took the lead from a Dylan Vassallo corner in the 12th minute. His looping cross from the left tantalisingly evaded the reach of Alex Mitchell, giving Southport striker George Newell the opportunity to head home from ten yards.
The goal lit a fire under Spartans, who almost replied instantly through Dan Maguire. The number nine raced forward on the break but was well denied by home ‘keeper Cam Mason.
Blyth increasingly gained confidence and control as the half wore on, though Southport still posed a danger from set plays, former Sunderland academy man Jack Bainbridge going close following a scramble in the area.
Thomson went down injured early in the second half and, after a futile attempt to run it off, was replaced by striker McNall. The substitution prompted a change in shape, with McNall and Maguire playing either side of Sean Reid in attack.
The away side adapted remarkably well to the enforced change, continuing to probe in the final third. O’Donnell tested Mason again with a low effort, and was twice denied in promising areas by some last-ditch defending. Blyth’s top scorer also saw a headed effort from a corner blocked away from the line as Spartans pressed for a leveller.
At the other end, Connor Woods embarked on a jinking run beyond the despairing challenges of three defenders, only to curl his shot a yard or so wide of Mitchell’s near post.
With just three minutes of the half remaining, Spartans finally got the goal their play richly deserved. The impressive Byrne was the architect, a series of stepovers in the area bamboozling the defence. His low diagonal ball bobbled into the path of Almond, who scored his first ever senior goal with a ferocious low drive from the edge of the area.
Having increasingly dominated possession in the first half, Blyth may even have felt aggrieved not to be ahead at the break, let alone level. When play restarted, Woods went close again for Southport, but Blyth’s dominance only increased. O’Donnell curled a decent effort wide, while the lively McNall saw a shot charged down at close quarters by Anson after fine work from Maguire.
In the 67th minute, Blyth eventually completed the turnaround, courtesy of one of the goals of the season. Almond had enjoyed a superb game at full-back, charging towards the byline and making space for O’Donnell. The former Gateshead playmaker still had plenty to do, but took his marker out of the game with a sumptuous first touch, then thumped a blistering drive high past Mason from over twenty yards out.
JJ’s eleventh of the season saw Blyth assert their advantage on the scoreboard for the first time in the match, but more was to come from the visitors. Out wide on the halfway line, Nicky Deverdics swept one of his trademark early balls high towards McNall. The inch-perfect cross was glanced home by the unmarked substitute, who celebrated with an emphatic salute to the sixteen travelling supporters.
Two goals to the good with seventeen minutes remaining, Blyth looked like coasting to a second away win of the league campaign, only for a defensive error to set the nerves jangling. A communication mix-up between Mitchell and Buddle saw the latter head the ball away from the ‘keeper and into the path of Adam Anson. The Southport skipper looped a header of his own over the stranded Mitchell into the empty net, sparking home hopes of a comeback.
The revival never materialised, however, with Blyth seeing out the final twelve minutes with relative comfort. Bainbridge saw a late effort blocked, but the visiting side did a superb job of taking the sting out of the game. Deverdics almost made it four in the final moments, curling a free kick into the side netting, but three goals proved enough for three points on the night.
After four straight league defeats and just one goal in that period, Spartans bounced back remarkably well against a decent Southport side, refusing to buckle under early pressure and dominating the game thereafter. Both Almond and Byrne were exceptional in less familiar roles, Corey McKeown shone throughout, and the entire side delivered quality as well as the customary graft.
Mitchell’s men will be looking to take that renewed confidence back to Northumberland on Saturday, as promotion hopefuls AFC Fylde make the trip up to Croft Park.
Southport | Mason, Oliver, J. Doyle, Anson (c), Edwards, Bainbridge, Munro, Vassallo (Benjamin), Woods, Mansell (Buckley-Ricketts), Newell (Corrigan). Subs not used | McMillan-Snelson, C. Doyle
Goals | Newell 12’, Anson 78’
Blyth Spartans | Mitchell, Almond, Byrne, Buddle, Lees, Deverdics, Reid, McKeown, O’Donnell, Thomson (McNall), Maguire (Barlow). Subs not used | Curran, Djalo
Goals | Almond 42’, O’Donnell 67’, McNall 73’
Referee | John Mulligan
Attendance | 769 (16 away supporters)