Armstrong's harsh half-time words inspire Blyth Spartans against Hednesford
Despite seeing his side register their ninth straight win of 2017, Blyth Spartans manager Alun Armstrong still saw fit to have a go at his players after a somewhat lackluster first half showing in Saturday's 5-1 win over Hednesford Town.
Jarrett Rivers scored twice within the first 22 minutes to get Blyth on their way, but some sloppy defending saw Hednesford reduce the deficit through an unfortunate own goal from on-loan Newcastle United goalkeeper Paul Woolston on the half hour.
Armstrong revealed that he had some strong words for his players during the interval, but they obviously worked as Luke Armstrong, Robert Dale and Daniel Maguire all found the back of the net in the second half to wrap up yet another emphatic win that allowed Spartans to extend their lead at the top of the Evo-Stik Premier League to 12 points.
When asked if he had any complaints on the performance, Armstrong said: “I did at half-time as I thought we took our foot off the gas a little bit, which was disappointing.
“We started like a house on fire and were cruising at 2-0 up, but we let them back into it.
“We got a warning when they headed one wide at the back stick, but then we conceded a sloppy goal a minute or so later.
“It was a little bit basic, so I had a little pop at them in the break and told them that we had to lift our standards.
“It wasn’t just the sloppy defending to blame, we also missed a number of chances in the first half as well. We could have been four or five up at the break, which would have been a fair reflection of the first half, in all honesty.
“2-1 is a horrible scoreline and I said to the lads that they had to lift their tempo if they wanted to win the game as it could come back to haunt us if we didn’t. The rest, as they say, was history.
“I don’t know how anyone could fault that second half. It was probably the kick up the backside the lads needed as we were outstanding after half-time.”
With Armstrong desperate for his side to score a third as soon as they could, it must have felt like it would take forever to come, especially after watching Dale’s chip over Town stopper Dan Crane bounce down off the bar and then seeing Maguire’s rebound effort blocked on the line with 20 minutes to go.
Thankfully, Spartans’ boss was saved further frustration by his son Luke, who fired the ball home to restore Blyth’s two-goal lead.
The 41-year-old added: “I thought it was never going to cross the line. Robbie [Dale], who I thought was outstanding again, tried a dink that only Robbie can and I was hoping it was going to go in for him.
“I’m pleased he got his goal in the end as he was involved in everything and set up a lot of our goals. Robbie brings you that little extra bit of quality and it was great to see him continuing to produce his best for us against Hednesford.
“Like I say, when Robbie hit the bar and ‘Nipa’ [Maguire] has one blocked on the line, you do start to wonder if our luck is out. Luke managed to smash it in eventually and that’s what he’s there for.
“Your strikers are there to get you goals and that’s what I love about ‘Nipa’ and Luke. The work-rate of the two of them is phenomenal and that’s helping us to get our rewards.”
Even when faced with horrendous weather conditions, the Spartans’ steamroller didn’t take long to get started on Saturday as Rivers’ first goal came within two minutes of kick-off.
That great start caused the Croft Park faithful to find their voice early on and Armstrong was delighted to hear them continue through the rest of the 90 minutes.
Armstrong admitted: “We need the fans, we really do. We need to get this place rocking, because it puts teams on the back foot straight away.
“Teams are really nervous when they come to Croft Park as it is and, if we can get the fans responding like they did on Saturday from the off, it’ll make it even more intimidating for the visiting sides that still have to make the trip up here this season.
“The Cannock lads were outstanding, as they have been on every away trip they’ve made as well. The noise that they make and the noise that they brought with them for the Hednesford game is exceptional, which just added to the atmosphere from the die-hard home supporters that turn up week in and week out.
“All I ask of the fans is to keep believing in us and backing the lads. We all make mistakes, but keep backing the lads and giving them that vocal support as we need it massively.”
Not only was Armstrong celebrating Blyth’s ninth win in a row when he gave his post-match debrief, but he was also happy to hear that title rivals, and next week’s opponents, Stourbridge had lost 2-1 to in-form Grantham Town.
With the two sides meeting in the West Midlands on Saturday, Armstrong is hoping Spartans can capitalise on Stourbridge’s shortcomings once again.
Armstrong admitted: “It’s a massive boost in a way as they’re one of the teams chasing us. If the team chasing you loses and you keep winning, then it does give you a massive boost.
“It’s not something I look for automatically, because I’m more concerned with what we do, but it’s always nice to come in and see the teams underneath you struggling.
“Don’t take anything away from Stourbridge though as I remember when we played them up here.
“First half, we battered them to go 2-0 up and we were sailing. However, our second half performance wasn’t anywhere near to the level that we are capable of.
“We let them back into it at 2-1 and then Michael Richardson gave away a last penalty by punching the ball away. Thankfully though, Adam [McHugh] saved it to let us off a bit.
“I thought we were the better team on that day, but there’s been a lot of changes since then and we just have to go there and try to get another win.
“I play attacking football and I try to attack teams and get at them. The biggest problem we are finding is that teams will sit back and then try and catch us on the counter.
“Stourbridge can’t do that though as they need the three points against us. That’s why I’m looking forward to an open, exciting game of football, as long as we get the three points at the end of it.”