Suggestions that Harry Dunn’s Blyth Spartans team had given up hard work for Lent were set to one side in Saturday’s game at Alfreton Town.
The Spartans recent points-fast, and Dunn’s own public criticisms, seemed to galvanize his penitent team into producing a performance of considerable diligence.
A draw against the League’s form team was both very welcome in terms of Blyth’s precarious position in the table and in the nature of its achievement.
“We battled very very hard at the weekend and thoroughly deserved the point,” Dunn said. “We’d lost the fighting element in recent matches. We restricted Alfreton to very little throughout the game and I don’t think our goalkeeper, Paul Farman, had even one diving save to make.”
Dunn changed his tactics for the game and they proved exemplary.
“I had word with a few people I know during the week about Alfreton and we decided to go man for man at the back. Richard Pell did a great job on Paul Carter as did Gareth Williams on their high scoring forward Liam Hearn.”
The fact that Alfreton’s goal was as a result of a penalty backed up his claims.
The home side took the lead on 27 minutes when Blyth’s Andrew Leeson was harshly adjudged to have fouled Hearn
“I was 70 or so yards from the incident but it looked a soft decision to me,” said Dunn.
Leeson was more vehement. “He was trying to run across me when he clicked his own heels and went down. It was never a penalty.”
Long serving defender Leeson explained why he thought the Spartans played so much better than of late.
“We were more up for it. Chris McCabe coming back into the side, and Alex Gildea when he came on, gave us extra bite in midfield and Marc Walton, coming back for injury, did well in trying to hold the ball up up front. In addition there seemed to be more confidence in the side.”
Another reason for the marked improvement could have been down to another of Harry Dunn’s change of tactics – this one pre-match.
“I had a right go at them before kick off” he said. “ That normally happens at half time but it seems to have had some effect. I told the lads in no uncertain terms that they will be replaced in they don’t do a job for us. We’ve got the FA Cup money and I will not hesitate to spend it to ensure our survival in the Blue Square North. They have no higher placed Club to go to – their only way is down, so they need to sort themselves out and fight to stay in the side!”
Sentiment will not stand in the way of a bullish Dunn.
On the plus side the Blyth boss was pleased with the way his side reacted to Alfreton taking the lead suggesting that in recent matches they might have struggled to respond as positively and as quickly. McCabe reacted smartly at the far post to a flicked header from Walton to stroke the ball into the net only two minutes after the home side had taken the lead.
This Wednesday Blyth travel to Newcastle Blue Star in the quarter final of the Northumberland Senior Cup (ko 7.30pm).
Dunn expects midfielder Simon Todd will return to the starting eleven and he suggested that other changes would be made to the side which drew on Saturday although first choice goalkeeper Marc Bell will be out for another two weeks or so with a broken finger.
Dunn is also trying to make two signings this week.
He hopes to bring in Gareth Waite, a six foot two inches tall central midfielder or defender from Spennymoor and he has put in seven days notice of approach for 25 year old striker Warren Byrne who is currently with Shildon.
They may be in the squad for the Wednesday’s game or Saturday’s match at Croft Park against Stalybrige Celtic. Alfreton travel north the following Tuesday and Dunn is looking for at least four points from those games.
Dunn suggested the Blyth’s defending at Alfreton was akin to that against Bournemouth. It is exactly the rekindling of the FA Cup run resolve which will be needed in the next few weeks.