Spartans face hard work in safety battle

Stalybridge's Stephen Brogan scrambles the ball around Blyth keeper David Knight to put the visitors in the lead on six minutes.'Picture by Bill Broadley.
Stalybridge's Stephen Brogan scrambles the ball around Blyth keeper David Knight to put the visitors in the lead on six minutes.'Picture by Bill Broadley.

MISERY and despair clouded Blyth Spartans’ Croft Park last Tuesday following a harrowing defeat at the hands of Northern League Newcastle Benfield in the Northumberland Senior Cup.

Spartans, lying bottom of the Blue Square Bet North, therefore needed to quickly pick themselves up before Saturday’s FA Trophy clash with high-flying Stalybridge Celtic if they were to stand any chance of progressing in the competition.

To their credit, following a totally disjointed showing in midweek, they rallied and managed to put on a decent performance in the Trophy tie.

“It was a big improvement on Tuesday,” said Blyth manager Steve Cuggy, and added: “to be fair it wasn’t hard to better that showing.”

Nevertheless, Blyth conceded on six minutes but equalised soon after through Graeme Armstrong.

The Blyth boss was pleased with his side’s immediate response.

“I know what it’s like in those circumstances. It’s easy for heads to drop – especially after a game like Tuesday’s,” he said.

The remainder of the half saw Blyth holding on, but only just.

The ‘Blyth Disease’ reared its ugly head again within minutes of the restart.

Two goals conceded with a minute dealt the Spartans a body blow from which they could not recover.

“Too often we concede within five or six minutes of each half, ” said Cuggy.

“We need to get this sorted out.

“They went two-one up when Wayne Buchanan dived in and allowed Phil Marsh the room to shoot.

“Wayne accepted his error and it wouldn’t be right to criticise him as a he’s been mostly excellent all season.

“We’d been trying to let them play in front of us because if we flew in we knew they could pick us off. It worked to some degree.

“It was another common failing of ours – communication, which lead us to concede again immediately.

“Graeme Armstrong made a wayward pass but really he should have been told to hang on to the ball.”

The goal saw the usually controlled Blyth boss furiously letting loose on the touchline.

The rest of the game saw the visitors maintain their superiority but the Spartans did not roll over.

Cuggy added: “We were always going to be up against it with a team of Stalybridge’s calibre.

“But we dug in and played for pride to ensure we didn’t get a hammering.

“I look at it this way – there are really two leagues in the Blue Square North, the top half and the bottom half.

“Stalybridge are flying at the top of the top half and we are bottom of the bottom half. We should gauge ourselves in relation to how we do in ‘our league’.”

The midweek game at Halifax is off due to the Yorkshiremen playing in an FA Trophy replay, which means a free week for Cuggy’s men before the vital league clash against fellow strugglers Bishops Stortford on Saturday.

Cuggy sees pros and cons resulting from this scenario.

“It’s good that we’ll have Darren Timmons back but on the other hand we will be without David Knight due to suspension.”

Blyth will have goalkeeping options available in Matt Crook and Matthew Hunter.

Plus Cuggy hopes to sign another keeper this week, pending a possible international clearance issue.

The Bishops Stortford game is, in Cuggy’s opinion, ‘massive’.

“There’s no dressing things up. The FA Cup run was great financially but the game this weekend is the biggest of our season so far.

“We have contacts in the south who watched Bishop Stortford and will be at their midweek game too, so we’re doing our homework”.

Hard work as well as homework and diligence will be necessary to kick-start Blyth’s push for league safety.