No return from a lacklustre display

LOWLY Stafford Rangers were the beneficiaries of a lacklustre second half performance from Blyth Spartans FC as for the second time in a week Mick Tait’s side were punished for their failure to close out a game.

As with Harrogate Town on Tuesday night, Blyth led at half-time thanks to a goal from Stephen Turnbull, but strikes from Marco Adaggio and Ben Mills handed Stafford all three points and a lifeline in their quest to avoid relegation from the Blue Square Bet North.

Defeat in Staffordshire makes it four games without victory for Blyth, and they still appear unable to shake off the hangover from their FA Trophy exit two weeks ago.

The Marston Road pitch is not exactly compatible to Blyth’s style of play and this was never going to be a classic between two out-of-form sides.

From the onset it was clear that victory would be attained by the team who wanted it more, and what the hosts lacked in quality they more than compensated for in desire and work rate, which the visitors failed to match for the duration of the 90 minutes.

That said, Blyth had chances either side of Turnbull’s 32nd minute strike and could have put the game out of Stafford’s reach.

Nicky Deverdics shot wide from 20 yards before Paul Brayson tested Stafford’s Lee Evans after a long kick from Blyth goalkeeper Dan Lowson.

Apart from two penalty appeals being waved away by referee Michael Salisbury, the closest Stafford came to scoring in the opening period was when Martyn Naylor overhit a free kick from the half-way line which almost caught out Lowson, with the goalkeeper turning the ball behind for a corner.

Blyth continued to create the better opportunities with Turnbull and Brayson both coming close before Robbie Dale cut in from the right and unleashed a shot which bounced up fiercely at Evans with the goalkeeper doing well to adjust and make the save.

The away side then took a deserved lead when Evans could only parry a shot from Dan Groves to the feet of Turnbull, who was left with the simple task of stroking the ball home from eight yards.

After the break, Blyth continued to threaten before the hosts forced their way back in to the contest.

Brayson latched on to a ball by Dale and hit a first time effort just wide of the upright with Evans rooted to the spot.

Signs of an equaliser were evident when the excellent Mills dragged a shot wide of Lowson’s far post and soon Stafford’s hard work was to be rewarded.

On 53 minutes Luke Keen rode a number of challenges down the left flank and crossed to an unmarked Adaggio who squeezed his shot under Lowson to level the scores.

After being pegged back Blyth again looked dangerous going forward but their final product was sorely lacking.

Chris Swailes headed over from a Phil Cave free kick before Dale released Neal Hooks, who drove in to the Stafford box only to drag his effort wide of the far post.

A moment of brilliance on 68 minutes won the game for Matt Elliot’s side when Mills took a superb first touch on the edge of the area before curling emphatically past Lowson into the top corner of the net.

It proved to be the only instance of sheer quality in a contest otherwise devoid of guile and inspiration from start to finish.

At the other end Dale won a header for Hooks who’s first time half volley flashed just wide of the upright before Stafford’s next attack produced the miss of the season when Keen missed an open goal from four yards, in the last meaningful act of the game.

Any hopes of reaching the play-offs have surely now evaporated for Blyth Spartans, but a good performance against league leaders Nuneaton Town at Croft Park on Saturday will help restore some much needed confidence and pride, which have both taken somewhat of a battering in recent weeks.

Blyth Spartans: Lowson, Groves, Cave, Gray, Swailes, White, Hooks, Turnbull, Brayson (Alexander), Deverdics, Dale.

Attendance: 334.