Set-piece goals put Blyth Spartans on top of league
Two set-piece goals saw Blyth Spartans go top of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier Division as they comfortably beat Nantwich Town at Croft Park on Saturday.
With nearest challengers Buxton and Rushall Olympic falling victom to the freezing temperatures, second half free kicks from Robert Dale and Stephen Turnbull were enough to secure the three points.
Blyth were caught cold in the opening minute as the ball was worked out to the left and Josh Hancock was able to cut inside to fire an effort that Paul Woolston did well to tip wide of his far post for a corner.
The resultant corner bounced through the six-yard box with Joe Mwasile unable to get a touch to give Nantwich a flying start.
It did not take long for Blyth to have their first effort of the game as Woolston’s kick bounced all the way through to Sean Reid who was able to turn and run at the defence before dragging a shot wide.
On five minutes Reid capitalised on a defensive error inside the Nantwich area but his effort was pushed away by Daniel Gyollai at the expense of a corner. The resultant set-piece was played short to Jarrett Rivers who jinked his way inside before curling an effort into the far corner only for the assistant to rule it out for offside.
Rivers and Robbie Dale caused havoc down the flanks for the two full backs and they created the next chance for Spartans. Dale got to the byline and cut the ball back for Rivers who opted to take a touch before seeing his effort blocked. The ball came back to Dale who shot at the near post but it was put out for another corner. This time the delivery from Stephen Turnbull was met by Ryan Hutchinson who could only head over the bar.
As the half wore on, Blyth continued to dominate both possession and territory.
Dale collected the ball on the left hand side of the box before swinging a cross in for Reid who forced the keeper into yet another save.
It took until just past the half hour mark for Nantwich to register their next effort. Hancock won the ball in midfield and released Ryan Brooke who was afforded time and space on the edge of the area and his shot from 30 yards was deflected wide.
Just before the interval, Nathan Buddle advanced up the field and beat two challenges before finding Rivers on the right, and his cross found Dan Maguire but he was denied by a last ditch challenge from the Dabbers to keep the ball out.
The half ended as it began with Nantwich having a great chance to take the lead. Matt Bell swung in a dangerous corner and found unmarked centre half Curtis Jones who could only head wide.
On 47 minutes Spartans went in front. Sean Reid was fouled on the edge of the box by Bell. Dale took aim and found the back of the net with the aid of a slight deflection from the wall to deceive Gyollai.
The goal seemed to release Blyth as they sensed the floodgates may open. Neat play involving full backs Atkinson and Michael Liddle ended up with Dale shooting from 25 yards but it was straight at the keeper.
The game took a farcical turn on 52 minutes after the referee ordered Mwasile off for wearing the wrong colour under shorts and made the player remain off the field for several minutes until the ball finally went out of play.
Nantwich could have fallen further behind during this as Rivers got in down the left and cut the ball back but the ball evaded Maguire and Dale.
The second goal did not take long in coming and it came from an almost identical position on the pitch. Rivers was caught by Riley allowing Stephen Turnbull the opportunity to bend the ball over the wall and into the top corner. It was a splendid effort and evoked memories of his free kick against Hartlepool.
Blyth continued to dominate as Maguire, Reid and Rivers all had good chances to extend the lead. Nantwich gave Spartans the opportunity of another set-piece after Jones crashed chopped down Dale in the box. Turnbull had the opportunity to double his tally but his effort went over the bar.
Nantwich had a chance to get back into the game when Brooke collected the ball but shot from all of 35 yards and his effort trickled wide.
Blyth were able to introduce two debutants as Jordan Laidler and Adam Wrightson both came on for the final period of the game.
Wrightson had a good chance in the 86th minute as he accelerated past Andy White, but his effort was smothered by the keeper.
Despite five minutes of added time, Blyth never looked in danger and thoroughly merited their 2-0 victory.
It perhaps could and should have been more with several good chances being created.
Blyth Spartans: Woolston, Atkinson (Cartwright 70), Liddle, Mullen, Hutchinson, Buddle, Rivers (Wrightson 68), Turnbull, Maguire, Reid (Laidler 79), Dale. Subs not used: Armstrong, Pell.
Next up for Blyth is an away game at Skelmersdale on Tuesday evening.