Spartans manager Alun Armstrong saw his side extend their unbeaten run to four games with a 3-1 win over Ilkeston FC on Tuesday night, but he still couldn’t quite shake the feeling of disappointment at aspects of their performance – after Blyth let their visitors back into the contest late on.
Matty Pattison turned in the rebound from goalkeeper Ross Durrant’s spot-kick save on 61 minutes, before Spartans’ skipper Robert Dale more than made up for his penalty miss with a majestic individual effort just three minutes later.
Ilkeston clawed their way back into proceedings with 15 minutes to go when Malachi Lavelle-Moore reduced the deficit, before he was just inches away from turning in an equaliser with three minutes to go. That miss was then further punished by the hosts – as Luke Armstrong fired home to record a third Evo-Stik Premier League win in four games for Blyth.
Despite his side securing another win to see them claim 10 points from a possible 12, the gaffer’s joy at the result was tinged slightly with a hint of disappointment – after Blyth appeared to ease up after taking a 2-0 lead with 25 minutes to go.
Armstrong explained: “I’m happy with the result, but I’m still disappointed in a way – as we’ve ended up conceding a goal that we should never have conceded.
“It should have been a game that we won at a canter, once we went 2-0 up. We should have controlled the game a lot better than we did and been a bit more professional about it.
“We took our foot off the gas and thought that we’d just keep the ball, but there’s a difference between keeping the ball and just slowing everything down. That allowed them back into the game and we got put on the back foot once they went with virtually four up top.
“We dropped too deep for me, which gave our midfielders a lot of work to do and – as anyone at the match could see – we were looking tired towards the end. I don’t blame them either, because it’s a lot of work for just the two of them in there.
“We got the breakaway goal, which helped settled everyone’s nerves at the end. I’ve got to give the lads credit though – as I thought it was a fantastic performance from the whole team.”
While many players would have dropped their heads after seeing their penalty saved by the goalkeeper, Dale opted instead to atone for his miss with a superb solo goal just three minutes later. Former Ipswich Town striker Armstrong famously scored in two games against Inter Milan in the UEFA Cup back in 2001, but admitted that he’d have been happy to have scored one similar to the man of the match’s audacious strike.
“I would have been proud of that one myself, without a doubt,” Armstrong admitted. “Robbie’s got that in his locker and everyone knows he has, but we’ve not seen much of it so far this season.
“Tuesday night was probably the first time I’ve really seen what he can do and we need more of that from him, to be honest, but we also need the other side as well. He still infuriates you at times – as he’s so good at going forward but, when we went on the back foot, we needed that other side from him.
“It might seem like I’m being a bit picky, but if we do things properly then we can be professional and save ourselves for the next game. We should have just seen the game through and looked forward to Saturday at 2-0 up, but we made hard work of it for ourselves.”
While the goals were worth the wait in the end, Armstrong revealed his frustration was rising as the game remained goalless. However, the Spartans’ boss knew that his not-so-secret weapon on the bench – striker Daniel Maguire – could change the game and that proved to be the case when Blyth opened the scoring within five minutes of Nipa’s introduction.
Armstrong said: “It was so infuriating, because we should have been 2-0 up at half-time. Then, in the second half, chances were coming in but we didn’t get that breakthrough and I thought it was going to be another one of those nights again.
“I knew who I had on the bench though and, when you bring Nipa on, he causes chaos. I just think he gives everyone a massive lift when he comes on and you could see that our intensity lifted, but it was just disappointing that we never went and put the game to bed after those two quick goals.
“I was disappointed with their goal – as it was sloppy from start to finish. It was a good finish from the lad, but he should never have got in there in the first place.”
With Spartans conceding a second sloppy goal inside four days, Armstrong must almost feel that his decision to bring in former Sunderland and Wimbledon defender Darren Holloway in as joint assistant manager earlier this week has been justified – as he now wants his players to see games out and put an end to their defensive mistakes.
Armstrong said: “It was a horrible goal to look at. I’d gone through the Hednesford goal on Saturday with the lads before the game and this one was even worse.
“That’s why I’ve brought Daz in with that side of things – as it does need improving.
“I know what we’ve got going forward and we look really exciting when we move the ball quickly. When we do it, there’s not many teams that can do it better than us and that’s what I’m looking to keep it.
“I can praise the lads to the hilt, because they were fantastic once again. They’ve taken everything on board that I want, but now I’ve just got to try and get that professionalism into them so we can see games out – as games are coming thick and fast.
“It’s tough when you’re working and then you’ve got games Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday etc. I’m trying to help the lads and work with them – in an effort to try and preserve energy for the next game once we get in front.”
With that in mind, Blyth don’t have long to revel in their victory over Ilkeston – as 13th-placed Stourbridge make the long trip up from the West Midlands on Saturday afternoon looking to claim their fourth away win of the season.
When asked if he would be looking forward to taking advantage of home comforts once again this weekend, Armstrong replied: “Yes I will and that’s where we need the supporters as well. You have to try and get maximum points from your home games.
“Teams will come and try to sit – like what Ilkeston did on Tuesday night – and not really come out of the blocks, but then try and catch us out on the counter. We’ve got to move the ball quickly to break teams down, so it makes it that bit harder for us.
“It’s going to be another tough game against Stourbridge. They had a good season last year, so I’m expecting a tough challenge from them.
“However, if we can get the fans behind us and get the lads on the front foot early once again, I’m confident that we’ll get another three points. We have to be patient again and work as hard as we possibly can, if we want to give ourselves a chance.
“The lads know how to win a game now and I know that we’ll nearly always score goals. It’s just making sure that we stop conceding them now.”