Despite Saturday’s 2-1 win over Evo-Stik Premier League promotion rivals Stourbridge making it ten wins from ten games in 2017, Blyth Spartans manager Alun Armstrong isn’t enjoying the selection headaches caused by his side’s fine form.
Robert Dale’s broke the deadlock with a near 30-yard free kick 24 minutes in, before Daniel Maguire found the net for the seventh consecutive game just before the break to give Spartans a commanding lead.
Stourbridge captain Tommy Tonks struck an unstoppable consolation in the last minute of the game, but Spartans held on to see their winning run reach double figures.
And while he obviously delighted with maximum points from Blyth’s last ten games, Armstrong isn’t enjoying having to leave players out of his winning side. However, he went on to add that each of his players still has a part to play from now until the end of the season.
When asked if he was finding management to be a breeze after ten consecutive wins in what is still his debut season, Armstrong replied:“It’s great at the minute. It always is when you’re winning.
“To be perfectly honest, the hardest part is trying to leave people out. You look at the lads even on our bench and they’d walk into anyone’s team.
“That’s not just me saying it, they would walk into anyone’s team in this league – without a shadow of a doubt – and I’ve got to try and keep all of those lads happy. The best way to do that is to keep winning games.
“There’s plenty of games still to go and there’s a few Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday games coming up, so they’ll all have their part to play heading towards the end of the season. Therefore, we’ve got to make sure everyone’s singing from the same hymn sheet.”
Saturday’s game at the War Memorial Athletic Ground was billed as a massive game for both side’s hopes of promotion this season, but Spartans were able to control long spells of the game and Armstrong was “delighted” with what he saw from his side.
The 41-year-old added: “I was delighted with the result, but I was delighted with the performance as well. It wasn’t a vintage football performance, but you could see the other side of us; sheer graft, determination, willingness to win, willingness to work, win the ball back and nullify their threat.
“I thought we were in control of the game throughout. I’m disappointed that we conceded right at the end because, when you look at the whole game, it was never a 2-1 game – as we dominated them from start to finish.
“Their keeper made some great saves, so we could have had three or four and no one could have complained. That was with us only playing in second or third gear as well.”
An entertaining first 20 minutes had fooled the 1376-strong crowd into thinking a classic back-and-forth contest would continue until the final whistle, but the Glassboys’ heads began to drop when Dale smashed a low free kick through the wall and past Stourbridge stopper Matt Gould. And while it wasn’t the best opening spell for the Spartans captain up until that point, Armstrong insisted that he backed Dale to find the back of the net.
Armstrong said: “You’ll probably laugh and think I’m making this up, but – after what was a bit of a stinker of a first 20 minutes for Robbie – I said to Daz [assistant manager Darren Holloway] ‘he’ll score here’ when he was stood over the free kick. He got it through and that’s Robbie; everyone knows what he’s like and he can win you a game just like that.
“I thought Jarrett [Rivers] – who was outstanding again – did well to get down the right and put in a great ball. It was a fantastic finish from ‘Nipa’ [Maguire] and the timing of the second goal right before the break virtually killed them off.
“We were comfortable second half as I say, but it was disappointing to concede right at the end. The great thing for me though, was that the lads were disappointed to let one in as well.
“The work ethic was second to none and we just have to make sure we carry this forward into the game on Wednesday. My most important focus is still Saturday though – and that’s not meaning any disrespect to Blyth Town.
“I’ve said from the off that I’m not going to lose sleep over cup games, it’s the league that’s the most important thing to me.”
Even though Armstrong appears to be prioritising the league over the Techflow Group Northumberland Senior Cup, he has decided to leave the result of Wednesday’s semi-final in the hands of his players – as he might not be able to make it to the game, as it stands.
Armstrong said: “I’ll make sure those lads that need games get their chance against Blyth Town. I’m also in at work as it stands at the moment, so it might be left to my assistant managers if I can’t get the time off!
“I’m leaving it up to the lads really. If they want to win it, then they have to perform.
“Obviously, the final is at St James’ Park and there’s also the bragging rights in Blyth for the winner. The lads are probably more interested in those really.
“We’ve got to make sure we put in a good performance, look after ourselves, not pick up any niggles and see the game through.”
Article: Glen Maxwell (@GlenMaxwell)
Image: Bill Broadley