McHugh’s injury time penalty save earns Blyth Spartans three points

Blyth Spartans goalkeeper Adam McHugh saves an injury time penalty. Picture by Bill Broadley
Blyth Spartans goalkeeper Adam McHugh saves an injury time penalty. Picture by Bill Broadley
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Blyth Spartans held on to see off a spirited Stourbridge and extend their unbeaten run to five games as another last-gasp penalty save from Adam McHugh secured a 2-1 win in the Evo-Stik Premier League.

Nathan Buddle converted with a leaping header from Stephen Turnbull’s corner just before the half hour, before Robert Dale scored the second with a deflected effort just six minutes later.

Luke Benbow produced a spectacular strike to reduce the deficit for Stourbridge, but he could only watch as McHugh saved his last minute penalty with his legs to help Spartans secure their fourth win in five games.

Alun Armstrong made just one change from the side that beat Ilkeston FC 3-1 on Tuesday night as Sean Reid made way for Daniel Maguire, who was making his first start since returning from injury.

And Maguire showed he was back to his best straight from kick-off as he was hauled down by Dan Scarr 30 yards from goal. Matty Pattison stepped up to strike the set-piece at goal, but it cleared the bar.

Pattison had another chance five minutes later through a sweeping counter attack down the right between himself and Luke Armstrong. The latter played the ball to the former Newcastle United midfielder but he was unable to get enough power on his shot on the turn and it was a comfortable hold for Matthew Gould.

Dale received plenty of plaudits for his spectacular solo strike against Ilkeston and he ghosted in on the left again on nine minutes. This time he drilled a low ball across the face of goal, but a desperate hack away by a Stourbridge leg denied him from picking out a teammate.

Two minutes later Pattison played in a lovely ball which was destined for the head of Buddle before Brian Smikle intercepted. His headed clearance went as far as Ryan Hutchinson, but the left back was able to deny Buddle’s centre back partner with a block on his attempt at the rebound.

If two Blyth defenders were left frustrated by their Stourbridge counter-parts, then a third joined them just 60 seconds later. Alex Nicholson lined up a shot but Scarr was able to get a block with his leg and divert the ball to safety.

The Stourbridge players had only got off the bus at around 2.15pm, but their display in the first 20 minutes suggested some of them were still on it.

They eventually created their first opening of the afternoon when Chris Lait threatened to trouble the hosts when he was found at the back post, but his attempted volley ballooned up into the air and straight into the arms of the waiting McHugh.

Blyth regained the initiative after that and came close to break the deadlock again on 27 minutes when Stephen Turnbull floated in a free kick from the left. His cross picked out Buddle, but his glancing header was kept out well by Gould.

If Spartans had felt that they should have been ahead through Buddle’s header, then a fantastic bit of play one minute later would have left them even more frustrated.

Dale played in a wonderful through ball, which was well left by Armstrong to play in Pattison. The former South Africa international cut in onto his left and curled a shot around Gould, but the ball bounced off the base of the upright.

The home side’s frustrations would soon disappear though as they finally went ahead from a corner on 29 minutes.

Turnbull once again found the head of Buddle, who had leapt up head and shoulders above his marker at the back post to power home a header that went in over the defender standing on the back post.

The Glassboys tried to reply instantly when a clearance from the back bounced over Nicholson’s head and allowed Lait in down the left. He tried to pick out a waiting forward in the box with a cutback on the byline, but McHugh got down to divert the ball and the opening scorer was there to mop up.

Spartans had enjoyed a spectacular strike from their skipper on Tuesday night, but he was happy enough to score from a deflection to put the home side further ahead.

With the ball at his feet on the left corner of the Stourbridge area, Dale fired what looked to be a speculative effort at goal. However, the shot took a deflection off Kristian Green and went past a helpless Gould at his near post and into the back of the net.

Stourbridge might have been two down but they tried their hardest to halve the deficit just before the break. Darryl Westlake tried one from distance, which forced McHugh to get down well across goal and push it behind.

Spartans raced out the blocks at the start of the second half but were unable to build on their lead. Armstong fired wide from 18 yards before Pattison put an audacious overhead kick attempt just wide.

Blyth keeper McHugh had done well to keep his clean sheet intact at the end of the first half, but there was nothing he could do when the Glassboys produced a moment of magic seven minutes after the restart.

Benbow picked the ball up on the left and, in not to dissimilar a position to Dale in the first half, opted to strike at goal. While Dale had beaten the keeper at the near post via a deflection, the Stourbridge striker’s fierce rocket flew across a diving McHugh and into the top corner.

The away side seemed invigorated following their goal and nearly forced an equaliser on the hour mark when a headed clearance found its way to Westlake on the 18-yard line. The defender struck on the turn, but his powerful shot could only clear the crossbar.

Blyth had seen less of the ball in the second half, but they were very unfortunate not to restore their two-goal lead on 64 minutes.

Maguire was played in by Dale, but couldn’t get a shot away and so left the ball for the on-running Armstrong. The 20-year-old took a touch and tried to find the bottom corner, but Gould was able to get enough of a touch on the ball to keep the score at 2-1.

With less than 15 minutes to go, Connor Gator’s free-kick from the right came out to fellow substitute Brandon Hague on the penalty spot. With the goal at his mercy, it took a fine diving block from Andrew Cartwright – who had come on at half-time in place of Nicholson – to divert the ball over the goal.

Stourbridge continued to turn the screw and assert their authority on proceedings as the game drew to a close, but were not able to carve out anything more than half chances.

That was until the last minute of four added minutes at the end of the contest when substitute Michael Richardson handled in the area from a corner amid some confusion after the referee blew his whistle after the set-piece had been taken.

Benbow stepped up and drilled his penalty down the middle of the goal, but McHugh blocked the ball away with his legs to save his fourth penalty out of five faced in a Spartans shirt and ensure Spartans were not punished for an error of judgement.

Blyth will now enjoy a week’s rest before they travel to Goole in the Buildbase FA Trophy on Saturday.

Blyth Spartans: McHugh, Nicholson (Cartwright 46), Liddle, Wade (Reid 82), Buddle, Hutchinson, Pattison (Richardson 72), Turnbull, Armstrong, Dale. Subs not used: Caines, Rivers.

Attendance: 507.