By Glen Maxwell
In association with:
ALAN McLEAN FCMA CGMA
Chartered Management Accountant
Evo-Stik Premier League
Saturday October 22 2016
Blyth Spartans 2-1 Stourbridge
Blyth Spartans held on to see off a spirited Stourbridge side and extend their unbeaten run to five games – as another last-gasp penalty save from Adam McHugh secured a 2-1 win in the Evo-Stik Premier League.
Buddle converted with a leaping header from Stephen Turnbull’s corner just before the half-hour mark, before Dale doubled up with a deflected effort just six minutes later.
Luke Benbow produced a spectacular strike to reduce the deficit for Stourbridge, but he could only watch as McHugh saved his last minute penalty with his legs to help Spartans secure their fourth win in five games.
Alun Armstrong made just one change from the side that beat Ilkeston FC 3-1 on Tuesday night – as Sean Reid made way for Daniel Maguire, who was making his first start since returning from injury.
And ‘Nipa’ showed he was back to his troublesome best straight from kick off – as he was hauled down by Dan Scarr 30 yards from goal. Matty Pattison stepped up to strike the set-piece at goal, but it cleared the bar.
Pattison had another chance five minutes later – after a sweeping counter attack down the right between himself and Luke Armstrong. The latter played the ball to the former Newcastle United midfielder at the edge of the area, but he was unable to get enough power on his shot on the turn and it was a comfortable hold for Matthew Gould.
Dale rightly received plenty of plaudits for his spectacular solo strike against Ilkeston and he ghosted in on the left again on nine minutes. This time, he drilled a low ball across the face of goal, but a desperate hack away by a Stourbridge leg denied Dale from picking out a teammate.
Two minutes later, Pattison played in a lovely ball which was destined for the head of Buddle before Brian Smikle intercepted. His headed clearance went as far as Ryan Hutchinson, but the left-back was able to deny Buddle’s centre-back partner with a block on his attempt at the rebound.
If two Blyth defenders were left frustrated by their Stourbridge counter-parts, then a third would join them just 60 seconds later. Alex Nicholson lined up a shot at goal, but Scarr was able to get a block in with his leg and divert the ball to safety.
The Stourbridge players had only got off the bus at around 2:15pm, but their display in the first 20 minutes suggested some of them were still on it, but they soon created their first opening of the afternoon. Chris Lait threatened to trouble the hosts when he was found at the back post, but his attempted volley ballooned up into the air and straight into the arms of the waiting McHugh.
Blyth regained the initiative after that and came close to break the deadlock again on 27 minutes, when Stephen Turnbull floated in a free-kick from the left. His cross picked out Buddle, but his glancing header was kept out well by Matthew Gould.
If Spartans had felt that they should have been ahead through Buddle’s header, then a fantastic bit of play one minute later would have left them even more frustrated.
Dale played in a wonderful through ball, which was well left by Armstrong to play in Pattison. The former South Africa international cut in onto his left and curled a shot around Gould, but the ball bounced off the base of the upright.
The home side’s frustrations would soon disappear though – as they finally went ahead from a corner on 29 minutes.
Turnbull once again found the head of Buddle, who had leapt up head and shoulders above his marker at the back post to power home a header that went in over the head of the defender standing on the back post.
The Glassboys tried to reply instantly, when a clearance from the back bounced over Nicholson’s head and allowed Chris Lait in down the left. He tried to pick out a waiting forward in the box with a cutback on the byline, but McHugh got down to divert the ball and the opening goal scorer was there to mop up.
Spartans had enjoyed a spectacular strike from their skipper on Tuesday night, but he was happy enough to score from a deflection to put the home side further ahead.
With the ball at his feet on the left corner of the Stourbridge area, Dale fired what looked to be a speculative effort at goal. However, the shot took a deflection off Kristian Green and went past a helpless Gould at his near post and into the back of the net.
Stourbridge might have been two down, but they tried their hardest to halve the defecit just before the break. Darryl Westlake tried one from distance, which forced McHugh to get down well across goal and push it behind.
Spartans raced out the blocks at the start of the second half, but were unable to build on their lead. Armstong fired wide from 18 yards, before Pattison put an audacious overhead kick attempt just wide.
The Blyth goalkeeper had done well to keep his clean sheet intact at the end of the first half, but there was nothing he could do when the Glassboys produced a moment of magic seven minutes after the restart.
Benbow picked the ball up on the left and, in not to dissimilar a position to Dale in the first half, opted to strike at goal. While Dale had beaten the keeper at the near post via a deflection, the Stourbridge striker’s fierce rocket flew across a diving McHugh and into the top corner.
The away side seemed invigorated following their goal and nearly forced an equaliser on the hour mark, when a headed clearance found its way to Westlake on the 18-yard line. The defender struck on the turn, but his powerful shot could only clear the crossbar.
Blyth had seen less of the ball in the second half, but they were very unfortunate not to restore their two goal lead on 64 minutes.
Maguire was played in by Dale, but couldn’t get a shot away and so left the ball for the on-running Armstrong. The 20-year-old took a touch and tried to find the bottom corner, but Gould was able to get enough of a touch on the ball to keep the score at 2-1.
With less than 15 minutes to go, Connor Gator’s free-kick from the right came out to fellow substitute Brandon Hague on the penalty spot. With the goal at his mercy, it took a fine diving block from Andrew Cartwright – who had come on at half-time, in place of Nicholson – to divert the ball over the goal.
Stourbridge continued to turn the screw and assert their authority on proceedings as the second half drew to a close, but were not able to carve out anything more than half chances.
That was until the last minute of four added minutes at the end of the second half, when substitute Michael Richardson handled in the area from a corner – amid some confusion after the referee blew his whistle after the set-piece had been taken. Benbow stepped up and drilled his penalty down the middle of the goal, but McHugh blocked the ball away with his legs to save his fourth penalty out of five faced in a Spartans shirt and ensure Spartans weren’t punished for an error of judgement.
Blyth will now enjoy a week’s rest before they travel to Goole in the FA Trophy next Saturday.
Blyth Spartans: McHugh, Nicholson (Cartwright 46), Liddle, Wade (Reid 82), Buddle, Hutchinson, Pattison (Richardson 72), Turnbull, Armstrong, Dale.
Subs not used: Caines, Rivers.
Stourbridge: Gould, Green, Smikle, Tonks (Heath 77), Westlake, Scarr, Dodd, Birch (Gator 65), Benbow, Brown, Lait (Hague 65).
Subs not used: Pierpoint, Probert.
Referee: Mr J Matthews
Spartans Man of the Match: Nathan Buddle
Armstrong: I Was Confident Penalty Hero McHugh Would Save Stourbridge Spot-Kick
Alun Armstrong has revealed that he believed Adam McHugh would save his second last-minute penalty of this season during Saturday’s 2-1 win – as the Blyth Spartans keeper denied Stourbridge an equaliser with the last kick of the game.
Blyth had raced to a 2-0 lead just after the half-hour mark, thanks to Nathan Buddle’s header and a deflected drive from Robert Dale, but Luke Benbow dragged Stourbridge back into the Evo-Stik Premier League clash with a sublime rocket across goal.
The dominant Glassmen were awarded a lifeline when Michael Richardson handled in the area from a corner in added time at the end of the game. Benbow stepped up and drilled his spot-kick down the middle, but McHugh was able to save the ball with his legs and maintain his run of penalty heroics.
McHugh has saved each of the last four penalties he has faced and – after producing four saves out of five spot-kicks in a Spartans shirt – his manager revealed that he had no doubt that the goalkeeper would deny Benbow a second goal.
Armstrong said: “I didn’t think we were going to concede, if I’m honest with you. Adam was standing there and I thought he would save it – as it’s just got to that point now that you fancy Adam to save a penalty.
“That’s a great position to be in as a goalkeeper. He’s got a great record and you look at it now, people will have it in their minds – if they get a penalty against us – that he’s saved his last four penalties, so that’s great for him and us.
“Fair play to the kid, he’s took his chance. I’m chuffed to bits for him and he’s getting his rewards.
“I probably do still need to get someone in to help him – as we don’t have a goalkeeping coach – and I’m working on that, because he needs some help on that side. He’s been in brilliant form for us recently though.”
Confused looks spread around Croft Park in the last of four stoppage time minutes, when referee J Matthews blew his whistle after a Stourbridge corner had already been taken. Michael Richardson appeared to believe the ball was dead and hit it with his hand, but the official pointed to the spot instead.
Armstrong too was bemused by the eventful end to the contest, but revealed that he spoke to the referee after the game about the incident and the referee’s decision.
The 41-year-old added: “If I’m honest with you, I couldn’t understand what was happening. I’ve seen the ball come in, their keeper looks like he’s gone to catch it and Michael’s stuck his hand up and hit it.
“Then, I’m thinking ‘What’s happened? The ref must have blew his whistle’. The lads have said that he blew the whistle after the ball was kicked, hence why Michael’s hit it away.
“In fairness, he should have just headed it or kicked it away as far as he could, but the referee pulled me in after the game and we discussed it. I don’t think he realised that the corner had already been taken when he blew his whistle, but that could have cost us two points.
“I think it would have been unjust if we had came away with a draw, because I thought our first half performance was really good. Yes, they did get back into the game, but I think what we did in the first half should have merited us going further ahead and winning the game before the break.”
Despite hanging on at the end, Blyth had been much the better side in the first half – as they went in two goals to the good at the break. Armstrong was delighted to see the lads turn it on for the first half, but had a feeling that Stourbridge would sneak back into it in the second half.
Armstrong said: “I thought we were fantastic in the first half – as the lads did everything that we asked of them. We were on the front foot and could have been three, four or even five nil up at half-time.
“You could sense in the changing room that they were thinking ‘What if we concede?’ and I told them that the next goal was all important and that we had to make sure it was us that got it.
“We started playing too direct, by just hitting the ball up to Nipa and Luke when they were 40 yards away from everyone else and we couldn’t get the midfield up quick enough to support them. We dropped off a little too deep and we tried to fix that a bit at half-time.
“The two lads up top were in for a tough afternoon – as they just chased the ball for 90 minutes and, when they got it, there was no one there to support them in the second half. That resulted in them winning possession and hitting us with the direct ball, which allowed them to get in.”
Armstrong’s side managed to record three clean sheets in his first four games in charge, but Spartans have conceded in each of their last three matches – albeit taking the maximum nine points available from them. Armstrong admits that both he and new joint assistant manager Darren Holloway will work on the defensive side, but had nothing but praise for his players’ efforts against the Glassmen.
He said: “Me and Daz have had a chat and there’s a lot of work to be done defensively, regarding positional play.
“I couldn’t fault the lads’ effort though. Some of the lads looked like they were dying out there and, if I could have made five subs then I would have – as the lads ran their socks off.
“You’ve got to look at them and they’ve done fantastically well in the last five games, considering some of the journeys we’ve had to make. We’ve gone unbeaten in the last five, drawing one and winning four.
“I can’t ask any more of them – as they’ve been outstanding. Long may it continue!”
Having watched his side exhaust themselves battling over the winning line on Saturday, the Spartans manager now has a full week to prepare for Blyth’s next match – as they begin their Buildbase FA Trophy campaign in Yorkshire. Armstrong admits that he wants to win the game, but suggested that his team selection might see some rotation – in order to keep his players fresh for the club’s league commitments.
Armstrong revealed: “We’ve got Goole in the FA Trophy on Saturday and that’s one that we want to try and win as well. However, there will be some changes – as I have to look after the lads and be fair to them.
“I need to make sure we’re ready for the league game on the Tuesday after though, so I’ll speak to the lads personally and see how they feel about needing a rest or not. We need to carefully balance them, but we want to win the game as well.
“I’ve got to be fair to the other lads that haven’t been playing – as there’s some that I’m still yet to see play much yet. It’s difficult to get into a winning team, but I could see in the final stages against Stourbridge that there are some fatigued legs in there and I need to make a couple of changes for Saturday.”