Blyth Spartans came away from Rushall Olympic on Saturday with all three points following an untidy game on a heavy pitch and played in a swirling wind, but with the backing of a large and vocal travelling support.
The hosts almost took the lead after three minutes when over-lapping full back Zak Martin was able to get a shot away from close range, but Spartans keeper Adam McHugh was alert to the danger and was able to clear the effort with his feet.
Blyth came close to taking the lead after ten minutes when from a corner Dale was able to advance and shoot hard and low towards the far corner of the Rushall goal, but Martin was well placed on the line to clear.
An incisive through ball by Rushall then found Alex Reid on the edge of the Blyth penalty area, but he scuffed his shot and it rolled harmlessly through to McHugh.
The home side were pressing and Mitchell Tolley volleyed well over the bar from 30 yards.
Blyth were always looking to break and Wilson Kneeshaw burst through between two defenders but his hurried shot was sliced wide.
Neither team had the upper hand, although Blyth had the better of the remainder of the first half.
Kneeshaw again got clear of the home defence but his shot was blocked and cleared before nice inter-play between Alex Nicholson, Kneeshaw and Neal Hooks saw the latter’s cross just fail to find the on-rushing Michael Richardson at the far post.
The visitors took the lead in the final minute before the break.
A precise ball by Dale found Richardson on Blyth’s left. He wriggled in to the penalty box and was brought down by Rushall captain Michael Townsend. Dale strode up and planted the penalty low to keeper Ryan Price’s left.
Blyth were keen to get their shots in immediately after half-time. Jordon Watson’s speculative effort sailed high over the bar before Richardson drove straight at Price who collected safely.
At the other end, Nathan Buddle was in the right place at the right time to rise and head clear a dangerous right wing cross before a free kick from Kris Taylor was deflected and McHugh plucked the ball out of the air with ease.
The game was end to end and Richardson, slightly off balance, saw his shot skid narrowly wide of Price’s right hand post.
A delicate flicked header by Dale then put Kneeshaw in on goal and only a superbly timed sliding tackle by Kieran Morris denied the young Blyth striker.
Midway through the half McHugh was called in to action twice, first to palm away a fierce Nathan Fox drive and then to rush out of his goal to prevent Josh McKenzie getting his shot in.
With 20 minutes remaining, Kneeshaw’s instinctive snap-shot was expertly saved by Price.
The home side had the better of the late exchanges. Substitute Jake Heath hit a thunderous shot which was pushed away to safety by McHugh. Heath then produced a deep cross to the far post but the unmarked Andre Brown missed a fine opportunity by volleying wide.
In the final minute, Blyth’s Nicholson was on hand to head clear another dangerous cross.
It was not a pretty win for Blyth but it was a valiant and hard fought one which sees them eight points clear at the top of the Evo-Stik premier division table.
Blyth are at home on Tuesday, February 23, when they entertain Frickley, kick-off 7.45pm. Colwyn Bay are then the visitors to Croft Park on Saturday, February 27, kick-off 3pm.
Blyth Spartans: A McHugh, A Nicholson, J Watson, N Buddle, R Hutchinson, N Hooks, M Richardson, S Reid, (A Wearmouth 63), W Kneeshaw, (D Maguire 71), M Wade, R Dale. Subs not used: P Robinson, D Parker, A Cartwright.