Blyth Spartans might not have made it easy for themselves in their 1-0 midweek victory over Marine, but assistant manager Neal Hooks was delighted to see them dig in and grind out a well-earned win.
Matty Pattison scored his third goal of the season from the penalty spot just after the hour mark to put Spartans ahead. However, the home side then conceded a last-gasp penalty in the third of four minutes of added time.
Adam McHugh denied Daniel Mitchley by saving his spot-kick, but it then took Chris Bell’s headed clearance off the line from the resulting corner to secure the win.
Hooks might have hoped that his side could have secured the result a lot quicker than they did, but he was full of praise for Marine after the Merseyside-based side pushed Spartans all the way for a second time this season.
He said: “I thought it was a hard-fought win. We didn’t really play at our best, but Marine pressed us well and they stretched us.
“They were really good tonight. However, when you want to win the league or get promoted, you need to scrape victories when you’re not at your best, and that’s what we did.
“It was a mistake that cost us the game down there, really, and it was a very disappointing result. They’re the only team so far to beat us this season and, again, they’ve worked us very hard.
“I think, at times, we didn’t match their work-rate and that’s a little disappointing. It’s always nice to avoid letting a team do the double over you in a season though, so we’ve got to be happy with that.”
The game’s main talking points revolved around the penalties awarded to each side, but Tom Wade’s number two wasn’t entirely convinced by either incident.
Hooks added: “They were two penalties that should never have been, in my opinion. I didn’t think either of them were, certainly ours.
“None of our players appealed for it, from what I noticed anyway, and a lot of the lads have said neither of them were penalties. That said, we took our reward from that and - unfortunately for them - they didn’t.”
Hooks also commended McHugh for his match-winning penalty save and has backed the keeper, who started on the season on the bench behind Peter Jeffries, to push on in the upcoming games.
The 28-year-old said: “It’s very positive to see Adam keeping that out and his confidence will be soaring now. He’s a big lad with a big frame, so that will certainly have helped.
“He’s guessed the right way and it was an excellent save. The lads all appreciated it and, sometimes, they’re the moments keepers need to push on from.”
McHugh’s dramatic save in added time wasn’t the first instance of this happening this season, but Hooks admits there was no chance of Robert Dale’s penalty heroics in the 2-1 win at Grantham Town last month.
“Obviously, Robbie’s got a 100 percent clean sheet record,” Hooks joked. “However, it would have been a bit disrespectful had we taken Adam out.”
Along with McHugh, Marine keeper Calvin Hare also drew the plaudits for his performance at Croft Park and Hooks had nothing but admiration for both number ones.
He said: “It was frustrating before we finally managed to get the breakthrough. Their keeper’s pulled a couple of good saves.
“We were huffing and puffing and we did carve out a couple of really good chances, but the keeper had a good game and made some great saves at vital times.
“At the other end, we’ve made blocks when we’ve needed to and Adam and Belly do what they have to at the end of the game.
“Both sides defended well but, thankfully, that little bit of luck you need has gone in our favour.”
By hanging on for all three points against the Mariners, Blyth have now recorded five straight wins in all competitions.
However, Hooks readily admits that form will go out of the window when they take on FA Vase holders Morpeth Town in the Emirates FA Cup second qualifying round on Saturday.
Hooks said: “No matter how we win the game, a win’s a win and it gives us confidence going into the Morpeth game.
“We were excellent last weekend and put Sutton out of sight, but today we weren’t at our best and scraped a 1-0 by the skin of our teeth.
“Morpeth will be a different challenge altogether. We should be going into the game full of confidence and we should be expecting to win, but it’s a cup game; it’s a one-off and you just don’t know what’s going to happen on the day.”