Alun Armstrong was left “flabbergasted” at the final whistle on Saturday – after seeing his Blyth Spartans side squander a two-goal lead, before finally beating fellow Evo-Stik Premier League side Halesowen Town 4-3 in their Buildbase FA Trophy second qualifying round clash.
Nathan Buddle and Daniel Maguire had put the hosts ahead at half-time, but Halesowen hit back after the break and went ahead through captain Jay Denny and a brace from substitute Ethan Delaney just after the hour mark.
Matty Pattison came off the bench to pull Spartans back level with a fantastic goal with less than ten minutes to go, before smashing home from close range in the last minute to claim what was an astounding cup tie for Blyth and send them through to the next round of the competition.
The total see-saw nature of the game would have done nothing for the nerves of the Croft Park faithful and Armstrong admitted that he knew exactly how they felt by the finish.
He said: “I was just flabbergasted after the match, I really was. We were comfortable in the first half, totally dominant and I asked the lads to come out with the same intensity in the second half and carry on in the same way.
“All of a sudden, it just went flat after they threw two up front and really went for it. They went 3-5-2 and that should have released our wide players, but it never happened and our wide players started dropping too deep.
“It was poor and I had to change it, so that’s why I brought Patta [Pattison] and Michael [Richardson] on. That gave us a bit more impetus and, thankfully it worked wonders – as Patta scored two great goals.”
Despite the positive end to the game, the Blyth boss was still bewildered by how his side had let Halesowen back into the tie so easily – after they’d failed to really trouble the home goal in the first 45 – and he has called on his players to change their mentality when they go ahead in future.
Armstrong stated: “We should never have been in that position to begin with. The lads know that and we had a discussion after the game and went through everything.
“They know what they did wrong, we know what they did wrong and we can’t carry on having that same mentality of ‘right, this is how we see a game through’ and it’s not.
“We’re best when we’re getting at people and everyone knows that. We have some really good attacking players and, the minute we take our foot off the gas and play what I call ‘tippy-tappy’ football – knocking it backwards and sideways – that’s when we get caught.
“The sooner the lads switch onto that, the better.”
While his frustration at surrendering a two-goal lead to go 3-2 down was clear to see on the sidelines, Armstrong couldn’t help but praise the battling qualities of his Blyth side and he revealed that he always had faith in them to turn it around again.
The 41-year-old added: “The character they showed to come back was absolutely outstanding. I thought they did magnificently.
“I could hear people moaning and that from behind and I just thought ‘let the lads get on with it’. I had every faith in them.
“When we scored the equaliser, I told Hooksy [Neal Hooks] that we’d get another one because that’s what we’re like. We can go and kill teams off when it’s against us, but it’s when we’re in front that we struggle to work that out.
“To come back and win the game after going from 2-0 up to 3-2 down – scoring two goals in the last eight minutes – showed tremendous character and it proves that the lads want to move on and do well in this competition.”
Early into the second half – two minutes before Denny found the net for Town’s first, in fact – Jarrett Rivers wasted a glorious chance that would have extended Spartans’ lead to three goals and Armstrong believes that it’s moments like that which are subconsciously affecting the performances of his players.
Armstrong stated: “It’s game over if Jarrett takes that chance and it’s little things like that which are so crucial – as, if he scores, the lads know that they’ve done enough to win the game. It goes wide though and, all of a sudden, they’re thinking ‘oh no, we can see this turning’.
“That mentality has got to change, because we never started playing to our strengths after that until we equalised. Full credit to them though – as we had some tired legs out there, but they still worked hard to grab the winner and they fully deserved it.”
Armstrong took the decision to rest the likes of Ryan Hutchinson and Michael Liddle for Saturday’s game, while Pattison was dropped to the bench – after scoring both goals in Blyth’s 2-0 win over Barwell. The Spartans’ gaffer had planned to avoid using the South African midfielder, but felt he had no choice once he was facing Buildbase FA Trophy elimination.
Armstrong admitted: “Without a doubt, I felt that my hand was forced by putting Patta on. I spoke to him before the game and, even though he scored two great goals at Barwell last week, I told him that I didn’t want to use him unless I had to.
“I did, as it turned out, so I asked him to go out and do something for us and that’s exactly what he did.
“He’s got top top quality, but you have to use him sparingly. He’s got an unbelievable left foot and he’s already got a fair few goals this season, so he could get another 10 goals before the end of the season and I expect him to.
“I didn’t want to use him, but – unfortunately – I had to.”
Spartans now move onto another cup competition on Tuesday night – as they travel to Shaw Lane AFC for an Integro Doodson Cup meeting. Armstrong is expecting a difficult game against Whitby Town’s Buildbase FA Trophy conquerors and his cause isn’t helped by a few of his players being unavailable for the trip to the Evo-Stik Premier League Division One North side.
He said: “Some of the lads that were rested against Halesowen will be back for Shaw Lane, but there’s a few that can’t make it because of work and that. I’m going to have a look at them though and maybe try something different with them.
“It’s going to be a tough game. Shaw Lane are certainly no mugs – as they’re currently second in their league with games in hand and they beat Whitby 3-0 on Saturday.
“I’m expecting a hard game, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
Interview: Glen Maxwell (@glenmaxwell)