Match report: Halesowen Town 0 Blyth Spartans 1

Neal Hooks put in his 250th appearance for Blyth Spartans at the weekend.
Neal Hooks put in his 250th appearance for Blyth Spartans at the weekend.

Blyth Spartans maintained their lead at the head of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League after a Robbie Dale penalty earnied them three points at Halesowen.

The Spartans welcomed back Nathan Buddle, on loan from Gateshead, but were without the injured Daniel Maguire.

A torpid first half where both sides were disappointing was followed by a second period during which the Spartans upped their game and deservedly ran out 1-0 winners.

In the first half, on a heavy pitch, stylish football proved to be elusive, and the contest was scrappy and shapeless.

The first action of any note came after 26 minutes when Halesowen’s Kaiman Anderson shot just over the Blyth bar from the edge of the penalty box.

Blyth responded when Neal Hooks, making his 250th appearance for the club, found Robbie Dale well positioned in the box, but the Blyth captain was unable to get a shot away.

Half an hour into the game, both goalkeepers might as well have been sitting with a cup of tea in the stand, such was their lack of involvement.

Five minutes before the break, good passing between Alex Nicholson and Robbie Dale put in Michael Richardson, but the Blyth midfielder just failed to connect with ball from 10 yards out.

The West Midlands side immediately went up the other end of the pitch, and a header from Michael Turner flew narrowly past Blyth keeper Adam McHugh’s post.

After the break, the weather worsened, with driving wind and rain hitting the players, albeit slightly in Blyth’s favour, but mercifully the football improved.

The Spartans emerged with new vigour and a higher tempo to their play.

A Robbie Dale free kick was well saved by Shaun Rowley in the hosts‘ goal, before a Richardson effort from 20 yards was comfortably collected by the Yeltz keeper.

Blyth were building in momentum, and Halesowen’s Malcolm Melvin almost scored a spectacular headed own goal when under pressure.

Blyth’s dominance paid off after 66 minutes, when a neat flick by the energetic Sean Reid found Dale in the box, where he was clearly fouled.

Dale himself took the resulting penalty and fired confidently past Rowley’s right hand to put Blyth ahead.

The home side almost equalised five minutes later, when McHugh had to palm away a dangerous free kick by Aaron Griffiths.

Nevertheless, it was Blyth who were in control, and Richardson forced Rowley to save well with his legs from close range before a stinging Paul Robinson drive was well saved by Rowley, who managed to push the ball on to the bar and away to safety.

Blyth’s Reid suffered what, at first, looked like a nasty injury as the final whistle approached, and there was a scare for the visitors in the last minute of normal time when a curling effort, from distance, by Griffiths hit the Blyth bar and rebounded out of play.

Referee Guy Stretton played nine added minutes, but the Spartans kept their concentration and saw the game out.

This was never a pretty game to watch, but from Blyth’s point of view it was a very well-won three points, resulting from a performance which showed guts, togetherness and a steely resolve.

Blyth’s next game is at home to another West Midlands side, Rushall Olympic, in the Northern Premier League on Saturday, kicking off at 3pm.

Blyth Spartans: A McHugh, A Nicholson, J Watson, N Buddle, R Hutchinson, N Hooks, A Wearmouth (P Robinson 70), M Richardson, S Reid (A Davis 89), M Wade, R Dale. Subs not used: D Morse, D Mullen, F Otte.

Attendance: 481.