BY Joe Buck
In association with:
ALAN McLEAN FCMA CGMA
Chartered Management Accountant
Vanarama National League North
Saturday, August 14th 2021
BLYTH SPARTANS 2-0 ALFRETON TOWN
A second-half brace from JJ O’Donnell secured Blyth Spartans an impressive 2-0 victory in their National League North opener against Alfreton Town with 1,260 supporters inside Croft Park.
A thoroughly professional second-half in defence, combined with some scintillating attacking play from Blyth, secured the home-side victory against a physical Alfreton team.
A frenetic start to the new season saw the visitors with the better chances in the opening stages with target man Matt Rhead having a few sighters at goal.
The Reds almost made Blyth pay for some sloppy play from Jordan Hickey following a miscommunication at the back, but Dayle Southwell couldn’t convert the gilt-edged chance.
Blyth’s first real opportunity in front of goal came in the 14th minute. A superb through ball from Robbie Dale found Josh Gillies in acres of space.
His low-cross found Dan Maguire at the back-post but some superb last-ditch defending saw Spartans come away with just a corner-kick.
After 26 minutes, Gillies suffered a nasty-looking injury after challenging for a header and the winger saw his game finished, half way through the first period with Connor Thomson the man replacing him.
Alfreton bombarded the Spartans defence with long throws and threatening free-kicks that really tested the metal of the Blyth back-line.
The main target of these set-pieces was Rhead who continued to be a threat up-front, setting up a chance for Bobby Johnson who saw his volley sail wide of the post.
A late free-kick from Nicky Deverdics forced a save from George Willis in the Alfreton goal but the teams entered half-time with the score deadlocked.
Whatever was said by Michael Nelson at half-time looked to have done the trick as Blyth came flying out the blocks in the second period.
Minutes into the second-half and the deadlock really should have been broken by Spartans but Dale couldn’t direct his effort on target.
However, this didn’t matter as the home side were soon ahead, courtesy of O’Donnell.
Maguire’s flick around the corner fell straight into the path of Thomson who put it on a plate with a lovely low cross for O’Donnell.
The newly-appointed Spartans vice-captain coolly slotted the ball under Willis in the Alfreton goal to take the roof off Croft Park.
They almost doubled their lead soon after but Thomson saw his effort saved low-down by Willis.
Blyth continued to impose themselves on the game and they saw this pressure pay-off in the 65th minute as O’Donnell grabbed his second of the game.
A long, searching ball from Karl Byrne fell kindly for O’Donnell who jinked past the defender, set the ball on his left-foot and hit a brilliant low-drive past the despairing Willis.
A late tackle from Deverdics saw tensions flare up with Alfreton skipper Tom Allan keen to make his feelings about the challenge known to the Blyth man.
Then, pantomime villain of the afternoon, Rhead, was knocked to the floor after a challenge from Nathan Buddle, much to the amusement of the majority inside Croft Park.
It was almost the perfect homecoming for Dale but he saw a left-footed effort blocked six-yards from goal.
O’Donnell wasn’t to make it a opening day hat-trick however as he was substituted in the 89th minute, departing with a standing ovation from the crowd.
Alfreton, despite being two-goals down, rarely threatened Alex Mitchell in the Blyth goal in the second-half as Blyth saw home an impressive 2-0 victory.
After a long-time without a league game, Blyth certainly rewarded their fans with a great team performance and should travel to Kidderminster next week full of belief that they can make it back-to-back victories.
Blyth Spartans XI: Mitchell, Liddle, Buddle ©, Gillies (Thomson 26’), Hickey, Maguire, O’Donnell (Sean Reid 89’), Dale, Byrne, Deverdics, Lees. Subs not used: Watson, McKeown, Painter.
Goals: O’Donnell 49, 65.
Alfreton Town XI: Willis, Clackstone, Wilde, Branson (Turton 50’), Smith ©, Allan, Bradley (Hobson 69’), Evans, Rhead, Johnson (Reeves 74’), Southwell. Subs not used: Lund, Elliott.
Referee: James Bancroft