Spartans win, but it's not vintage
Blyth Spartans ran out 4-0 winners against Evo-Stik League basement club Skelmersdale United, but it was a far from vintage display from the league leaders.
Daniel Maguire finally broke the deadlock for the home side on 36 minutes, before tapping home a second just three minutes later to put the hosts two up at half-time.
Jordan Watson headed home his first goal since returning to the club on 64 minutes, before Luke Armstrong added to two first half assists with a goal three minutes from time to wrap up a win that saw Blyth rarely move out of second gear.
Left-back Watson continued in the centre of defence alongside Ryan Hutchinson, who returned from injury for the visit of relegation-threatened Skelmersdale. Meanwhile, Alun Armstrong opted for a central pairing of Matty Pattison and David McTiernan in the middle of the park.
With both sides desperate for points at different ends of the table, it was the home side that started on the front foot and could have easily been ahead within the opening 60 seconds. Good pressure from Armstrong saw him dispossess Jason Jeffries and play the ball to Pattison, but his shot deflected behind off a trailing Skelmersdale leg.
An interception on seven minutes nearly put Blyth in again Wrightson reacted quickest to a loose pass in midfield and fed Pattison on the right. The South African was free in the corner of the area, but his first-time effort could only clear the crossbar.
The Croft Park faithful would be up on their feet in celebration just one minute later, but their joy was to be short-lived. Robert Dale’s free kick was nodded past Joe Hilton by McTiernan, but he was to be denied his first Spartans goal by a tight offside call.
McTiernan would go close from another set-piece ten minutes later when Pattison’s corner bobbled through a crowd of bodies and into the path of the former Whitby Town midfielder. He hit the ball sweetly on the half-volley but his shot was blocked.
Maguire – who received his Port of Blyth Player of the Month award for February prior to kick-off – looked certain to continue his fine form so far this season when he evaded Jeffries and got into the area with the ball at his feet. However, he uncharacteristically scuffed his shot when it was just expected that he would score.
Maguire’s next chance came on 24 minutes when Wrightson played a ball in from the right and dropped it at the feet of the striker who controlled the pass well but could only fire wide with a shot on the turn.
Wrightson then had a pop himself. After bursting through the visitors’ half at pace he drilled one from 20 yards across Hilton, but was unable to find the inside of the far post.
United – who had dug in valiantly to keep the scores level up until this point – had to wait until the 34th minute for their first effort at goal, when Seb Bradshaw fierce strike stung the hands of Spartans keeper Paul Woolston.
However, Blyth took heed of that warning and finally went ahead just two minutes later.
A great ball released Armstrong down the right and the young striker did well to keep it in play at the byline. He drilled a low cross into a grateful Maguire who was waiting to tap the ball home from two yards.
And like the old analogy of London buses, the home side had a second goal three minutes later.
Armstrong beat the offside and was able to beat an advancing Hilton to the ball at the edge of the area. The 20-year-old took his time and cut back on his right, before unselfishly rolling the ball over to Maguire to slot home his 25th league goal of the season and give Blyth a two-goal lead at the break.
A switch of halves brought a switch of build-up as Maguire tried to turn provider for Armstrong with a cross. Armstrong tried to find the back of the net, but was denied by some resolute defending from Phil Mooney.
Maguire tried to grab his hat-trick just before the hour mark when he struck low and hard from a tight angle, but Hilton was able to deny him with a save with his feet.
Despite his best efforts, the Skelmersdale stopper was powerless to stop Spartans from extending their lead on 64 minutes. Hutchinson leapt up to flick on a corner at the near post and fellow central defender Watson powered home a header at the back stick.
Having already seen Dale withdrawn in the first half, Spartans’ management were given another injury worry when McTiernan went down on halfway with just over 15 minutes to go. The midfielder could not continue and was replaced by the newly engaged Sean Reid, while Jordan Laidler also took the place of Maguire in a double change.
Wrightson had scored a wonderful chip in the reverse fixture at Skelmersdale earlier this season and he tried to repeat history with 11 minutes to go but could not produce anything more than a comfortable gather for Hilton.
Hilton might have thought his luck was in with that stop, but he must have thought he was in dreamland just moments later as Armstrong cut the ball across to Pattison a yard out from goal at the back post for a certain goal. Somehow, the former Newcastle United midfielder was able to pass the ball back across goal and into the grateful arms of the Skelmersdale keeper.
Blyth would not dwell on that miss for too long, though, as Armstrong finally got the goal his performance deserved on 87 minutes.
Substitute Reid had been released in the area and could have gone for goal himself. However, in a similar unselfish fashion to Armstrong for Blyth’s second goal, he rolled the ball across goal for the young striker to poke past Hilton.
Blyth Spartans: Woolston, Cartwright, Liddle, Pattison, Hutchinson, Watson, Wrightson, McTiernan (Reid 74), Maguire (Laidler 74), Armstrong, Dale (Rivers 38). Subs not used: Pell, Bell.