Blyth Spartans picked up a massive three points against promotion rivals Stourbridge with a 2-1 win at the War Memorial Athletic Ground on Saturday.
Robert Dale opened the scoring with a fantastic free kick on 25 minutes before Daniel Maguire’s header just prior to half-time doubled Blyth’s advantage and sent Spartans on their way to a tenth consecutive win.
A spectacular strike from Stourbridge skipper Tom Tonks halved the deficit in the last minute, but it was too late to inspire a comeback in the Evo-Stik Premier League ‘six-pointer’ as Blyth extended their lead at the top of the table to 14 points.
After watching his side decimate Hednesford Town 5-1 the previous weekend, Blyth boss Alun Armstrong named an unchanged side for the trip to Stourbridge.
That meant that new signing David McTiernan had to settle for a place on the bench.
Blyth were straight on the attack and forced a corner within the first two minutes. Jarrett Rivers’ delivery was cleared out as far as Dale at the edge of the area, but he could not keep his effort on target.
A long throw from Tonks caused chaos in the Spartans’ box two minutes later when a flick on at the near post resulted in claims for a penalty for handball. However, referee Sarah Garratt was not convinced.
Blyth were back on the attack from the resulting goal kick as Luke Armstrong danced along the byline and struck a shot into the body of a sprawling Matt Gould. Rivers picked up the rebound and chipped the ball towards the back post, but Armstrong was beaten in the air to the header.
The Glassboys failed to capitalise on a couple of set-pieces in the eighth minute, but Blyth went close once more five minutes later after Maguire beat his man and headed for the byline. He cut the ball back for Rivers yards from goal, but the winger was muscled out of a clear-cut chance.
Blyth had another chance to get a decent ball in from Jordan Laidler’s free kick on the right wing just prior to the 15-minute mark, but the home side looked to capitalise from Gould’s punch away. Ethan Jones ran the length of the pitch with the ball at his feet before David Atkinson was able to quell the danger at the expense of a corner.
The two teams continued to cancel each other out in an entertaining first 20 minutes, but another special piece of brilliance from man of the match Dale broke the deadlock.
After Reid was fouled nearly 30 yards from goal on 24 minutes, Dale stepped up and drilled a low hard drive through the wall and inside Gould’s right post, giving the Stourbridge stopper no chance.
Both sides continued to press at every opportunity and Stourbridge were almost level with 36 minutes on the clock when a speculative ball into box by Josh Green caught the Spartans defence cold. Kayelden Brown ghosted in and took full advantage of the hesitation but could only volley his shot over the bar.
A mere 60 seconds later Blyth might have felt they were unlucky not to be further ahead. When Rivers’ corner bobbled about in the box, Nathan Buddle met the ball on the turn but could only lift it over the bar.
With the first half drawing to a close, Blyth doubled their lead as a quick throw from Atkinson released Rivers down the right. The winger beat Richard Sho-Silva on the byline before drilling a ball across goal, picking out the head of Maguire perfectly, and he was left with a simple nod in to grab his seventh goal in seven consecutive games.
Stourbridge had a penalty shout within five minutes of the restart as a coming together between Brown and Atkinson saw the left winger go down in the box. Yet again, though, Garratt signalled for play to continue.
The second half flattered to deceive after an entertaining first, but Blyth were inches away from a third goal on 65 minutes.
Gould spilled Dale’s shot before the ball made its way back to the Blyth captain. He proceeded to pick out Armstrong at the back post, but his header was saved magnificently by the fingertips of Gould as the keeper more than made amends for his earlier error.
Maguire forced another save from Gould soon after when played in one-on-one, but the ball fell kindly for Darryl Westlake to clear.
A controlled Spartans looked to see out the remaining 25 minutes with relative ease in a messy ending to an entertaining game, and the margin of victory could have been even greater but for a uncharacteristic blast over the bar from Dale in the last minute.
There was to be a nervy ending, though, when the Glassboys scored a spectacular consolation in stoppage time.
Tonks’ corner came back out to him at the corner of the box, where he smashed home a lovely first-time effort with the last kick of the game, despite an attempted header on the line from Jordan Watson.
After a massive win in Blyth’s push for promotion, Spartans will be full of confidence when they take on Northern League division two side, and near-neighbours, Blyth Town in the Techflow Group Northumberland Senior Cup semi-final on Wednesday night, kick-off 7.30pm kick-off.
Blyth Spartans: Woolston, Atkinson, Watson, Laidler, Hutchinson, Buddle, Rivers, Reid, Maguire (Wrightson 90), Armstrong (McTiernan 85), Dale. Subs not used: Pell, Mullen, Pattison.