BLYTH SPARTANS (1) 2
ALTRINCHAM (0) 2
UniBond League Premier Division Match,
played on Wednesday, 14 April, 2004
Two-nil down after an hour, Alty looked to be on the way to a fifth successive defeat but, revitalised by substitutions, they dominated the closing half hour. Blyth had gone ahead after 39 minutes when Whitehouse's mis-hit shot somehow beat Coburn and they doubled their lead when Joyce scored from a seemingly offside position (57 mins). Substitute Matt Bailey got Alty back in the game, converting a rebound from the keeper after his first shot had been parried (70 mins). Four minutes later Leeson headed Aspinall's free-kick past his own keeper to level the scores. Mr Simpson's fussy refereeing culminated in Shuttleworth being sent off in added time for kicking the ball to an opponent after a free-kick had been given to Blyth.
REFEREE: Mr P Simpson (Spennymoor)
Snow had caused this match to be postponed in February which meant a 300-mile plus weekday trip for Altrincham and their supporters. Before the supporters' coach set off, manager Graham Heathcote came aboard to thank those on the almost full vehicle for their support.
Always a neat and tidy ground, Croft Park had undergone some changes since our last visit. Notably, smart new concrete terraces had been added behind each goal and new walling had been erected either side of the main stand. The pitch, too, was in excellent condition for a game played in dry conditions but with a disappointing attendance, partly due to the rival attraction of Newcastle United versus PSV Eindhoven not far down the coast. The Blyth social club remains excellent value for pre-match sustenance and at £1, the programme, too, was a good, informative buy.
There was a surprise return for Gary Scott in the Alty line-up. Gary, named in right midfield, had missed the 13 previous league games with a facial injury. However, Gary Talbot was unable to play, so Peter Band partnered Mark Maddox at the back. Stephen Rose was in midfield, but there was no place for Steve Lunt who had started the last game. Stuart Wright returned to the bench after tonsilitis.
Blyth, on a run of 13 league games without a win, were without Gareth McAlindon and Graham Fenton. But Alty's record of no wins in their previous five games meant that this was an important match for both sides. Alty were seeking to maintain their qualifying place for the Alliance North whilst Blyth were hoping to get out of the bottom three and so qualify for the play-offs. Blyth had won the encounter at Moss Lane earlier this season, but Alty had won at Croft Park on their last two visits.
BLYTH SPARTANS (Green & white stripes, black shorts, white socks): 1. Craig TURNS (capt.), 2. Gareth WILLIAMS, 3. Mark ATKINSON, 4. Ian DIXON, 5. Andrew LEESON, 6. Keith GRAYDON, 7. Christian GRAHAM, 8. Dale TELFER, 9. Chris JOYCE, 10. Anthony WOODHOUSE, 11. Wayne PHILLIPS. Subs: 12. Ian CRUTWELL, 14. Lee GEORGE, 15. Wayne BOOTH.
ALTRINCHAM (Pale blue shirts, white shorts and black socks): 1. Stuart COBURN, 2. Steve ASPINALL, 3. Barry SHUTTLEWORTH, 4. Mark MADDOX, 5. Peter BAND, 6. Ged KIELTY, 7. Gary SCOTT, 8. Ian CRANEY (capt.), 9. Marcus HALLOWS, 10. Stephen ROSE, 11. Jamie BAGULEY. Subs: 12. Kieran LUGSDEN, 14. Matt BAILEY, 15. Stuart WRIGHT.
Mr. Simpson started the game a good two minutes early, with Alty kicking off on a breezy evening. Having begun on the right on Monday, Baguley started on the left tonight whilst, up front, Marcus Hallows had Ian Craney as his partner, as manager Graham Heathcote again rang the positional changes. The travelling Alty fans gave their team good vocal support whilst the home fans in front of the main stand were, as ever, amongst the most passionate in the league.
The first real goal-effort of the game came when Turns's punt was relayed to Philips by Joyce. Phillips, who had lost his marker Steve Aspinall, fired in a well-struck shot from the left which Stuart Coburn was grateful to see fizzle past the junction of bar and post to his left (7 mins). Blyth were not playing like a side without a win in 13 matches and it was clear that there would be no easy pickings for Altrincham. With the light fading, but still no floodlights on, the mobile Joyce almost got free but the ball came to Woodhouse, on the right. His low cross was importantly cut out by the alert Aspinall before Phillips could get to it inside the centre of the box (9 mins). Aspinall then did well going forward, getting past three Blyth players on the right to reach the by-line but his cross, from a tight angle, went just behind the Blyth crossbar (11 mins).
The floodlights now came on as Maddox’s push gave away a freekick on the left, front-corner of the Alty box. Phillips's freekick was cleared. After a display of petulance by Baguley over a throw-in, referee Simpson lectured the on-loan Stockport youngster (15 mins). Alty's best effort at this stage was a gentle header from Hallows to Turns, from a ball into the box by Scott, who was playing well after his long lay-off (17 mins). Aspinall then made his second important interception of the game, just getting his foot to the ball as a cross came in for Telfer, who still got in his shot but put it narrowly over Coburn's bar. Blyth were having the better of the game as Alty moves foundered on offsides and freekick awards to the home side. Mr. Simpson was to prove a stickler for throws and freekicks being taken in precisely the right place and some of his decisions were causing Alty manager Graham Heathcote clear annoyance. Predictably the nearby Blyth supporters barracked the Alty manager whenever he protested a decision. Following another Blyth freekick Band did well to see off Joyce and then Coburn had to rush from his line to smother the ball ahead of Phillips's arrival (23 mins).
A misheader by Aspinall then gave Woodhouse an opening but he shot over the bar (24 mins). A low shot from 25 yards by Graydon soon followed but Coburn held this comfortably (26 mins). Joyce then got behind Band but the ball ran to Coburn's arms. A needless foul by Hallows maintained the Blyth pressure but Maddox cleared Williams's freekick. At last Alty got forward when Craney got round Graydon but was obstructed in the process. As Baguley lined up the free kick from right of goal just outside the box, Blyth replaced Graham by Crutwell (29 mins). Baguley curled the freekick into the box where Turns gathered it at the second attempt. Craney again threatened soon afterwards but undid his own good work with a poor final pass. After Aspinall had had to climb a fence to retrieve the ball for a throw-in, Craney's cross found Hallows but the ball dropped comfortably for Turns (31 mins).
A lecture for Hallows followed after he had committed another foul as Blyth continued to win free-kicks at regular intervals. Craney was then caught narrowly offside but a few minutes later he got past Leeson, having collected Shuttleworth's pass, but his lob went wide of the goal from 25 yards (34 mins). A harsh freekick was awarded against Band whose response earned him a lecture. Graydon's freekick from 22 yards just missed Coburn's top corner, to his right (36 mins). Blyth were still having the better of the game when Phillips again found space but mis-hit a half-volley to Coburn (37 mins). After Hallows had been penalised again, in the Blyth box, the resulting freekick was cleared for a throw on the right. The ball was thrown back to a position 25 yards or so from goal on the right from where a cross found the unmarked Woodhouse. Though the Blyth man clearly mishit his shot from close range, it somehow deceived Coburn and went into the net at the near post to give Spartans the lead (39 mins).
The goal lifted Blyth's spirited performance even more and as half time approached, Mr. Simpson booked Shuttleworth for a foul some 35 yards out from goal on the Alty left. In the one minute of added time Craney picked up a loose ball and fired narrowly over the bar from the right, on the edge of the penalty area. As the officials left the pitch, Graham Heathcote spoke to the referee before heading for the changing rooms to prepare his team for the second half.
|Half-Time: BLYTH SPARTANS 1 ALTRINCHAM 0|
Alty replaced Rose at half-time, with Kieran Lugsden coming on to join Hallows in attack and Craney moving back to midfield. Alty enjoyed more possession as the second half got under way than they had for much of the first period. After Scott had fed Craney, the Alty captain moved forward but shot a good 15 yards wide from 25 yards out (52 mins). The freekicks continued with first Hallows and then Lugsden penalised. Joyce then got past Band in the left-centre channel and his shot prompted a great save by Coburn (55 mins). Maddox then made a good clearance after a poor kick clear by Coburn had put his side under pressure. Soon, on the break, Woodhouse advanced with Crutwell and got behind Band. Coburn advanced and he and a Blyth player went down in the box. The ball broke to the Blyth left to where Joyce had advanced, unmarked, and the striker had a simple task of putting the ball into the unguarded net. Arguably he had been offside and Alty keeper Coburn immediately ran across to the linesman to protest. For his pains he was booked (57 mins).
Soon after play resumed , Craney was bodily lifted off the ground by an opponent but play continued. Alty now brought on Bailey for Baguley but not before there were farcical scenes when Alty displayed Wright's number rather than Bailey's and the linesman pointed this out. The situation was finally resolved when the single substitution became a double one, with Wright replacing Hallows (60 mins). Bailey joined Lugsden to give Alty their third strike pairing of the game so far. Soon, Lugsden was tripped as he took the ball across the front edge of the Blyth box. Craney blasted the freekick very high over the target but it was Mr. Simpson's turn, now, to annoy the home fans as he ordered a re-take for encroachment by Atkinson, whom he booked (63 mins). Aspinall curled the re-taken kick over the bar.
Alty's improving performance almost got a reward when Kielty's well-judged pass set Wright clear on the left. His 25-yard shot went across goal and past the far post (64 mins). Altrincham went closer soon afterwards when a freekick from the right by Aspinall was won by Bailey before being relayed by Lugsden back to Bailey whose header forced a good save from Turns (67 mins). Then Aspinall played a good ball forward for Bailey whose firm shot was well parried by Turns, only for the Alty sub to knock the ball back past him to make it 2-1 (70 mins).
Blyth remained on the back foot and when Dixon fouled Lugsden, he became the second Blyth player to be cautioned (73 mins). From Aspinall's freekick, on the left some 25 yards out, Leeson rose and nodded the ball back past his own keeper for the equaliser for Altrincham (74 mins). Altrincham now sensed a possible win after being two down and forced the first corner of the game for either side from Lugsden's deflected shot. From Aspinall's left-sided corner, Maddox made a perfectly timed run but his back post header was superbly saved by Turns, at the cost of another corner. This time, the corner came from the right and was cleared.
Blyth now brought on George for Graydon (78 mins). As referee Simpson continued to insist on precision at free-kicks and throw-ins, Lugsden and Bailey continued to pose problems for the Blyth defence. Blyth now picked up a third booking when Woodhouse delayed an Alty free-kick (82 mins). Alty continued to hem Blyth back and won another corner through Lugsden, on the right. Leeson did get in a shot at Coburn at the other end but it was underhit. Lugsden then laid the ball off for Wright who, in space, shot wide when he should have made Turns work (84 mins). Altrincham kept pressing but Craney shot wide from 25 yards, just before two minutes of added time were announced.
As against Alfreton on Monday, added-time was to prove costly for Altrincham. A foul by Maddox on George gave Blyth a freekick towards half way on the Blyth right. Shuttleworth knocked the ball away to a Blyth player and referee Simpson showed the Alty left-back a second yellow card followed, inevitably, by a red. Following Maddox’s dismissal on Monday, Alty have now had two red cards since winning the UniBond Fair Play award for March. The last meaningful act of the game was Telfer's header, narrowly wide, at the back post.
Altrincham showed good spirit in the second half after a disappointing showing in the first period. Though the equaliser was fortunate, their pressure and spirit in the second period deserved at least a point. With three games left, Alty probably need two wins to ensure automatic qualification for the Alliance North and with Runcorn the only side below Alty who can get a higher maximum points total than them, their fate is till in their own hands, given that Runcorn are visitors to Moss Lane for the last match of the season.
|Full-Time: BLYTH SPARTANS 2 ALTRINCHAM 2|