Blyth Spartans boss Alun Armstrong believes his side had on-loan debutant stopper Paul Woolston to thank for their 2-0 win over Barwell – as the Newcastle United goalkeeper pulled off a crucial save just prior to Matty Pattison scoring the opening goal.
Woolston denied Owen Story with a fantastic reaction save when the Barwell midfielder was in one-on-one on 16 minutes, before Pattison left Liam Castle stranded with a superbly struck free-kick five minutes later.
The South African winger then went on to double up in the second half and secure Spartans’ fourth consecutive Evo-Stik Premier League win, but Armstrong was delighted that his latest signing was able to keep his side in the game after their sluggish start and provide a springboard for Pattison to break the deadlock moments later.
Armstrong said: “I’m chuffed to bits for Paul in goal. I thought he was outstanding.
“He came for things, his kicking was top notch and he just gave the lads a little bit more confidence.
When asked if Woolston’s save was the turning point of the game, Armstrong replied: “It probably was, because you always expect your goalkeeper to try and make the save. The lad probably shouldn’t have even got in there in the first place, but I thought Paul stood up really well and it was a great save to his left.
“We then went up and scored a fantastic free-kick soon after through Matty. We didn’t start at our best to be honest, but you look at the four-hour journey we did on the bus and it’s tough for the lads.
“Once we got the goal, we settled into it. We started to get a higher line instead of dropping off and the lads will take confidence from the game – as, after Paul’s save early on, I couldn’t really see them scoring.
“I was looking in the second half and thinking that it was quite comfortable. I didn’t see them scoring and I always thought we were going to nick another one, which we did.”
Despite Barwell enjoying much more possession than their visitors to Kirkby Road on Saturday, Spartans boss Armstrong not only saw his side nick a two-goal victory but they also kept their first clean sheet in five games in all competitions.
However, the 41-year-old revealed that he had been briefed all about Barwell by Blyth captain Robert Dale.
Armstrong added: “I’m really happy with the result, obviously. We got the clean sheet that we deserved, but we have played a lot better than that without a shadow of a doubt.
“We knew it was going to be difficult and it’s great having Robbie on board – as he told me exactly what to expect at Barwell and it was nothing short of what he said. It was a battling game, where we had to win second balls more than just playing football.
“Both goals were against the run of play really. We never scored during our dominant spells in the game, but it’s great that we were able to rely on that little bit of quality to break away when they were on top.
“I think it showed another side to us though. We showed that battling quality and our determination not to concede.
“I changed it slightly at the end to make sure we saw the game out and that was my biggest point. Once we got to 2-0 up, I just thought that we have to see this game through now and prepare for the next one.”
After playing their third game within seven days in the 2-0 win over Barwell, Spartans now have a full week’s rest before they welcome fellow Evo-Stik Premier League side Halesowen Town to Croft Park for their Buildbase FA Trophy showdown.
Even though Armstrong knows his side will be ready to go against their Midlands-based opponents, he is also dreading the selection headache he now faces for the contest.
Armstrong declared: “We’ll be more than ready for the Halesowen game on Saturday. The hardest part for me is picking the 11 and then picking the subs.
“I had to leave Michael Richardson out of the squad for Barwell and Gavin Caines as well. It’s hard to do, but that just shows how strong our squad is.
“Leaving players out like that is the hardest part of management, because I thought Michael did really well in the last game. He’s taken on board what we want from him and Gav has done ok when he’s come on as well.
“I just thought Pelly [Richard Pell] gives us something different and that’s why I named him on the bench instead.
“I think I’ve said it before, but anyone that I put in there is capable of covering for everyone. Patta [Pattison] and Robbie came back in today and they took on board exactly what I said to them about being more disciplined.
“You look at the Trophy and that’s where I’ll be looking to bring that rotation into play. I know for a fact all of the lads will be desperate to play in it and we’re lucky that we can switch players round and we’ll not be any weaker.”
Cup games are starting to come thick and fast for Spartans, who travel to Shaw Lane AFC in the Integro Doodson Cup on Tuesday November 15 and then entertain Northern League side Bedlington Terriers in the Techflow Group Northumberland Senior Cup seven days later.
Despite that, Armstrong insists that the league remains as Blyth’s number one priority and he is focused solely on extending the club’s impressive unbeaten run for as long as possible.
Armstrong said: “We’ve got another cup game against Shaw Lane in the Integro Doodson Cup the Tuesday after Halesowen, so I’m looking at that one as well. However, the league still comes first and we need to ensure that we keep up this run that we’re on.
“We’re on a great run and I want it to continue. I want it to go on for as long as it can and I’m not going to shy away from the fact that we’re unbeaten in eight games at the moment – as once you get on these runs, you don’t want to come off them.”
Interview: Glen Maxwell (@glenmaxwell)