Unlucky 13 For Hatters, As Unbeaten Run Ended ‘Howay’ At Blyth
All good things come to an end, as County experienced on a wild and wintry Tuesday night near the North-East coast – going down by the odd goal in five in an open contest against Blyth Spartans.
Despite a goal in each half from Adam Thomas and Frank Mulhern, the rearranged League fixture at Croft Park proved ultimately to be a case of 13th time unlucky for the Hatters, who had remained unbeaten for their previous dozen matches in all competitions.
They took to the field showing one change from the 4-2-3-1 line-up which had kicked off at Edgeley Park against Brackley Town – with Mulhern, fresh from netting the last-gasp equaliser as a substitute on that occasion, earning a starting place. Nyal Bell dropped to a bench that also included Jamie Stott and Paul Turnbull, following recovery from their respective injuries.
County created the first chance of the evening – courtesy of Matty Warburton, whose fifth-minute cross from the left was scrambled away by home goalkeeper Peter Jameson, ahead of the on-rushing Mulhern. But, setting the tone for what was to become an end-to-end contest for much of the night, Blyth soon afterwards tested Ben Hinchliffe, who held on to a header by Sean Reid.
The Hatters had earned four corners with 20 minutes on the clock, albeit without fashioning any more from them than a Jordan Keane header that flew wide of the left post. And four minutes later, they found themselves behind, after a through-ball from Spartans’ skipper Robert Dale found Dan Maguire – whose shot from the left was parried across the goalmouth by Hinchliffe and then deflected over the line off the shin of an unfortunate Dan Cowan.
Warburton came close to getting County back on level terms within two minutes, by way of a header that Jameson did well to tip around the left upright. But, following another two, the arrears were doubled when Maguire fed the ball back for Reid to smash home a 20-yard thunderbolt.
Elliot Osborne, who had never before experienced defeat in a County shirt, endeavoured to preserve that record with one shot that Jameson deflected beyond the right post and another that was drilled wide of the same upright. But he fared better as a provider after 35 minutes – delivering a corner to be nodded in at close range by Thomas.Having halved their deficit, the Hatters were immediately grateful to Hinchliffe, as he executed a brilliant fingertip save to deny Kieran Green and keep his side just one goal behind at the break.
HALF-TIME: Blyth 2 (Cowan (o.g.), 24; Reid, 28), County 1 (Thomas, 35).
Their task was, alas, to be made all the more challenging just over a minute following the resumption, as Spartans, having intercepted within their own half, went further ahead – with Connor Oliver drilling into the bottom-right corner after latching on to another telling Dale pass.County responded with a shot from Warburton that Jameson palmed away, and, subsequently, with a substitution that introduced Bell as part of a two-player attack. Then, with 66 minutes played, and with a slice of good luck to offset the earlier inadvertent misfortune surrounding Cowan’s own goal, Mulhern converted for the third successive match – albeit thanks to a deflection off Oliver that saw the shot loop wickedly to deceive Jameson.
The Hatters huffed and puffed in the rain as they attempted to earn a share of the spoils – and even provided themselves with an opportunity to repeat their comeback from the previous weekend by earning a 94th-minute corner. But the hosts went closest in the later stages – with Hinchliffe needing to be at his best to keep out Reid’s header from their own final corner of the night.
FULL-TIME: Blyth 3 (Cowan (o.g.), 24; Reid, 28; Oliver, 47), County 2 (Thomas, 35; Mulhern, 66).
Team: Hinchliffe, Minihan (Stott, 57), Duxbury, Keane, Palmer (Capt.), Cowan, Thomas, Walker (Bell, 53), Mulhern, Osborne, Warburton (Dimaio, 90 + 1).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Turnbull.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.