BLYTH Spartans FC recorded their fourth consecutive victory in the Blue Square Bet North against a competitive Stafford Rangers at Croft Park on Saturday.
Manager Mick Tait was probably hoping for a more comfortable afternoon against Matty Elliot’s struggling side as Spartans went behind to an early penalty before taking full control of the contest and racing in to a 3-1 lead.
A battling Stafford pulled a goal back with 20 minutes to spare and the hosts then squandered a number of decent chances to put the game out of sight, which had Croft Park fearing a late equaliser, which thankfully for Tait never arrived.
When ground staff arrived at Croft Park on Saturday morning and witnessed the frozen surface there was initial talk of a postponement.
But thanks to hard work and a heating system which dealt with the treacherous goalmouths the game went ahead.
And it was well worth the effort, as Blyth were too hot for Stafford, even if they were not quite in the scorching form which had seen them defeat Gainsborough in midweek.
Prior to Shane Benjamin’s ninth minute penalty which gave the visitors the lead, Blyth had missed two good opportunities to open the scoring.
First Robbie Dale played a well measured pass to Paul Brayson who found himself one-on-one with Lee Evans, but he hit his effort straight at the Rangers goalkeeper.
Nicky Deverdics then found himself in a similar position, following an excellent ball from Stephen Turnbull, but tried to be too clever in attempting to round Evans who smothered at the feet of the Spartans forward.
Against the run of play, Stafford were awarded a penalty after a goal bound strike from Ben Mills was adjudged to have struck the arm of Neal Hooks by referee Stuart Campbell.
Dan Lowson then conceded his first goal for Blyth when Benjamin sent the goalkeeper the wrong way from the spot.
It was a lead which the visitors could only hold for eight minutes as they succumbed to pressure from the home side.
The goal itself came out of very little and owed much to the desire and anticipation of scorer Michael Tait.
Hooks played a diagonal ball to Dale, and his downward header looked to be heading in to the arms of Evans before Tait intervened and took it past the goalkeeper before squeezing the ball in from the tightest of angles.
Blyth’s second came on 27 minutes when the in-form Hooks met Turnbull’s corner with a powerful header which Stafford’s Martyn Naylor could not prevent from finding its way in to the net.
Stafford almost responded immediately when Mills turned neatly in the Spartans area and fired a shot which Lowson saved to his right.
Blyth were soon turning their dominance in possession in to chances, as Dan Groves and Brayson both had shots before the break which neither could keep on target.
The visitors would have been relieved to hear the half-time whistle as the hosts were looking likely to add to their tally prior to the interval.
Three minutes after the restart Michael Tait miscued with just Evans to beat after Chris Swailes won an aerial challenge in the Stafford box.
Lowson then had to be at his best to tip a Danny Edwards free kick over the bar before Groves headed a Ben Mills effort off the line from the resultant corner.
With both sides creating chances and Blyth protecting a slender lead, the next goal was always going to be decisive.
To the relief of the home fans, Dale produced a moment of magic in the 63rd minute, to put clear daylight between his team and their opponents.
After receiving a neat lay off from Brayson, Dale drove deep in to Stafford’s half before finishing with a delightful effort from the edge of the area, which was directed with precision into the top corner of the net.
In fairness to Stafford, they did not let their heads drop and were rewarded for their resilience on 71 minutes when Levi Reid struck a fierce shot past Lowson from 25 yards.
The visitors then had chances to equalise through McAughtrie and Mills in a tense finale at Croft Park.
The hosts also had opportunities on the counter attack with Dale once again at the heart of the action.
He first pulled a ball back for Tait who hit a curling shot just wide of the upright.
Dale then intercepted a Stafford throw-in and raced forward to unselfishly play in Brayson who saw his shot saved by Evans, in the last real act of the game.
The win means Blyth have won their last five games in all competitions and now have a full week to prepare for their third round FA Trophy match against Droylsden at Croft Park on Saturday.
Blyth Spartans: Lowson, Groves, Cave, Tait, Swailes, Buchanan, Hooks, Turnbull, Brayson, Deverdics, Dale.
Man of the match: Neal Hooks