Alun Armstrong admits he endured the “worst case scenario” in Blyth Spartans’ opening day defeat at Alfreton Town – after watching last season’s top scorer Daniel Maguire and strike partner Jordan Laidler limp off during the 2-0 loss.
Goals from Luke Shiels and Andre Johnson either side of half-time secured victory for the home side at The Impact Arena, but it was the injuries to both of Spartans’ strikers that caused the Blyth boss more headaches – as Laidler hurt his knee before the break, before Maguire got caught late on the ankle by Tom Platt late on.
A long afternoon was then compounded when referee James Bell also withdrew with a calf strain with four minutes to go. Following a delay, assistant Daniel Jarvis stepped up to complete proceedings – as the game ended in bizarre circumstances, with only one assistant helping the new man in the middle.
Spartans return to the Vanarama National League North didn’t go to plan with the defeat, but Armstrong was more worried about the injuries Spartans suffered – as they came in an area that he acknowledged needed reinforcing prior to Saturday.
Armstrong admitted: “It’s the only position – as everyone knows – where we are light and I’ll have to make a few phone calls to get some cover in quite sharpish.
“You look at them and ‘Nipa’ [Maguire] could probably be two to three weeks and then see how he is. Jordan is going to be more long-term; it’s looks to be a bit of a tweak on his knee.
“That’s the biggest disappointment for me, losing two quality players that are fundamental to the way we play.”
When asked if Blyth had underwent a baptism of fire in their opening game of the new Vanarama National League North season, Armstrong replied: “I said that to the lads. In a way, I’m glad it’s happened like this.
“We know what we’re up against now and we know what kind of football that we’re going to be playing and what we’re going to be playing against. Everything’s quicker and we’ve got to be more clinical in both boxes really.
“We never took our chances today. I think we let in two sloppy goals and, to be fair, they could have had a couple more goals as well.
“I was disappointed with the result – as there were spells where I thought we played really well, but I think we need to start making sure we stop conceding sloppy goals.”
Alfreton – who had signed no less than 17 players during the close season – went ahead through a long throw from Platt that was flicked on at the near post by Tom Allen, before Shiels reacted quickest to power home a header. Armstrong also revealed that goal summed up the naivety that Blyth showed when gifting two goals to the new-look Town side.
The 42-year-old added: “I said to the lads before we went out that set plays were going to be key in this league. Everyone’s got time to work on them and you could see that they had worked on them.
“Today was really disappointing – as we just got a little bit naive. We never won the first ball and we had got a little bit of a warning beforehand, where their number nine pulled off from a corner and we never dealt with it.
“It was disappointing and we had a good go at the lads at half-time. We told the lads what was needed and – to be fair to them – I thought we started the second half really bright (and for) 25 minutes, until a sloppy pass lets in the second goal and you get punished for it.
“That’s what we’ve got to learn and learn quickly. I’m not too disappointed – yes, I am with the result – as the lads now know what we’re up against and we know what we have to do.”
Just after Maguire left the field with his ankle injury, Bell made his way to both dugouts to have a discussion with the Alfreton and Blyth benches – amid confusion around the ground at the cause for a near seven-minute delay – and, seemingly with no replacement to be found, the game was completed with just two officials. However, Armstrong admitted that an Alfreton official had come forward, but he refused to agree to let them officiate.
He explained: “The referee came across and said that he’d pulled his calf and couldn’t continue. They were waiting to see if there was anyone in the stands that could officiate.
“They found someone, but I wasn’t having it – as she was actually an official from Alfreton. I wasn’t being disrespectful to Alfreton; we just had to make sure it was done properly.
“There must be a rule that says you can finish the game without a linesman, which I’d never heard of before. I have to admit, it is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen on a football field.”
A full video of Alun’s post-match interview for BSAFCTV can be viewed below.