After being told that Blyth Spartans never do things easy when he joined the club, manager Alun Armstrong stated that his side proved that point with their last-gasp 2-1 win over Rushall Olympic on Saturday.
Having been unable to find the net until David McTiernan nodded home his first goal for the club on 72 minutes, Spartans looked to be heading towards claiming another three points. However, Olympic struck back through substitute Stan Mugisha in second half stoppage time to all but guarantee themselves a share of the spoils.
That was until Jarrett Rivers slotted home just one minute later, to produce spectacular scenes of euphoria from a bumper 796 Croft Park crowd – as the table toppers extended their lead at the summit of the Evo-Stik Premier League.
And Armstrong had to take more than a moment to digest what he witnessed during that period of late drama, before celebrating an important win for his side.
Armstrong explained: “I got told when I joined that Blyth never do things the simple way and I think that summed the game up, I really do. For 90 minutes, we battered them and then just sat back.
“For one reason or another, we just couldn’t find a second goal that would have killed them off. You could just sense it and you know that there’s a chance you can get caught out if you don’t take your chances.
“I thought Nathan Buddle had done enough by forcing the lad wide, to be fair. I’d have to see it again, but I’d have to question if Paul [Woolston] should have done more to save it or not.
“That was the only shot they had had on target, so we were absolutely devastated. I spoke to the lads after and I had to give them massive credit for not going in a sulk after that goal went in.
“We went straight up the other end and went for goal straight away again, which was great to see. It was a lovely cool, calm finish from Jarrett as well.”
Having seen his side struggle to convert their chances at Croft Park for the second Saturday in a row, the Blyth boss could have been forgiven for being frustrated at them not being able to break the deadlock until the 72nd minute. However, the 42-year-old revealed that he had every confidence in his players to find the net.
Armstrong added: “I’ve always said we will score goals and we will, because we have too much firepower not to score. Even if the front two can’t find the back of the net, we’ve got plenty of others in the ed team that are capable.
“We just have to be patient, but – at times – we slowed it down a little bit too much and I asked them to speed the play up at the break. We needed to be quicker to try and catch them out – as they came and sat with a flat back five and there was no space to get in behind them, but the lads kept grafting away.
“It’s horrible to play against, because it’s like a training session where you keep getting the ball and you start to dwell on it. Rather than getting forced into a pass, we took extra touches and that only slowed us down.”
The whole game could – and probably should have changed – when an air clearance from Andrew Cartwright presented Gungit Singh with a golden opportunity in the 56th minute. Thankfully, Singh blazed Rushall’s first chance of the game well wide and gave Blyth a lucky reprieve.
Armstrong said: “I thought Carty [Cartwright] was in a comfortable position to deal with it, but – for some reason – he’s completely missed the ball. Their lad’s picked it up, but I think he’s managed to shin it wide.
“It was a comedy of errors all round really, but it was the shake up we needed – as the lads realised that we might lose it if we didn’t get a goal. I thought the effort was great from them and I think everyone appreciated that.
“It was one of those days where we had to work harder than we might have liked, but we got the result that we thoroughly deserved in the end.”
Rushall’s late equaliser saw Croft Park silenced, before the noise levels soared once more with Rivers’ last-gasp winner. Armstrong knew that it was a massive result for Blyth, but got a feeling that the fans celebrated all the more knowing that Nantwich Town and Spennymoor Town had both dropped points.
The Spartans manager said: “It was really weird, because we were devastated one second and down in the dumps. We thought it was an opportunity missed and, all of a sudden, we pop up with a winner and the whole place just erupted.
“Croft Park had gone silent after their equaliser, because I don’t think anyone could quite realise it. As I say, the lads did brilliantly to go up and get a winner and you could sense the relief at the end, more than anything.
“I think everyone else knew what was happening elsewhere, because it’s getting to that stage of the season where everyone – especially the fans – are checking other results to see how they impact on us and it ended up being a massive win for us.
“If they had dropped points and we’d followed suit with a draw, I don’t think anyone would have grumbled. Them dropping points is a massive help and they have both got tough games again on Tuesday, so it’ll be interesting to watch.”
As Armstrong states, Nantwich and Spennymoor have tricky midweek fixtures – as The Dabbers host Matlock Town, while Spenny travel to Warrington Town. With a full week to prepare before Blyth’s trip to Stafford Rangers, Armstrong is happy to sit and watch Spartans’ title rivals slog it out while his side sit with points already on the board.
Armstrong said: “Both Warrington and Matlock will be tough tests for them both. We had to be at our best at Warrington – as it’s a tricky place to go and get a result.
“Matlock aren’t an easy side to face either, even with home advantage, so it’s really good for us to be able to sit and watch with points already on the board.
“I’ve looked at Nantwich’s and Spennymoor’s fixtures and I see what they have to do, with two or three games in a week and it’s tough to do that at this stage of the season. Blyth had to do that last season and it’s a real challenge, unless you have a huge squad.
“It’s hard to get the mentality right after such a short space of time. It’s going to be interesting this week, but we’ll have a nice relaxing time and then work with the lads in training to make sure we’re ready for Stafford on Saturday.”
Article: Glen Maxwell (@glenmaxwell)
Image: Bill Broadley