Hatters Undone By Blyth Spirit
County lost a first competitive match at Edgeley Park in almost 11 months, and in front of EP’s largest crowd so far this season, while Blyth Spartans – making only their third-ever visit to SK3 – enjoyed an inaugural victory here, thanks to two goals by substitutes in stoppage time.
Earlier, and just prior to the half-hour mark, Matty Warburton had converted a penalty to put the Hatters ahead, although the lead lasted only three minutes before the Spartans equalised.
County took to the field on a fine autumnal afternoon, showing three changes from the side that had done so at Darlington a week earlier. Jimmy Ball, Matty Warburton and (for just his second start as a Hatter) Ben McKenna replaced Connor Hampson, Adam Thomas and injured skipper Harry Winter, as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Stephen O’Halloran was once again handed the captain’s armband in Winter’s absence.
With the visitors, managed by legendary former County striker Alun Armstrong, having already seen 58 goals scored at either end in their previous 13 National League North matches, an attacking contest was a decent bet. But it was County who made all of the early running – and hit the woodwork with just a minute on the clock, when Chris Smalley’s header from a corner was tipped on to the Cheadle End crossbar by Blyth goalkeeper Pete Jameson.
Further chances for the Hatters followed in the high-octane opening exchanges – as Dan Cowan’s low drive towards the bottom-left corner of the Spartans’ goal was hacked away by Nathan Buddle, and both Warburton and Scott Duxbury fired efforts over from the left.
After 17 minutes, the under-pressure Spartans came close to delivering a sucker punch when Sean Reid’s header set free Blyth’s leading scorer Dan Maguire, whose low shot beat Ben Hinchliffe but struck the right post.
And 12 minutes later, Reid used his hands rather than his head – blocking a Jason Oswell header to earn the Hatters a penalty. Warburton calmly sent Jameson the wrong way from the spot for his seventh goal in all competitions, to put County one-up.
But the Spartans responded almost immediately, and were back on terms after a Dale Hopson header was deflected into the path of Adam Wrightson, who volleyed home from six yards.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Warburton (penalty), 29), Blyth 1 (Wrightson, 32).
The Hatters were to have the ball in the visitors’ net twice after the re-start, through Oswell and Warburton – only to see both efforts ruled out for offside.
What followed was a second half lacking a little of the first’s attacking intensity, albeit still featuring chances at either end – and the Hatters went close again just after the hour, when Ball’s glancing header from a Warburton corner flew across the goalmouth and past the right post.
The home goal was well protected by its defenders, as Cowan dispossessed Jarrett Rivers – on as a half-time substitute for Maguire – when the visiting winger was through on goal, and O’Halloran cleared a shot from Hopson off the line.
The Hatters’ own first substitute, Thomas, was denied by Jameson’s save after running the full length of the pitch – and Blyth rattled the County woodwork for a second time when Hopson, fed by Wrightson, turned, shot and hit the left upright from 20 yards. Hopson then sought to return the favour to Wrightson with a long ball that the diminutive emergency striker half-volleyed over.
With the encounter heading for a share of the spoils, EP was stunned not once but twice in added time – as, first, Michael Liddle, who had been introduced five minutes earlier, cut inside from the left of County’s box to put the Spartans ahead, and, a minute later, Rivers seized on a rebound to slot past Hinchliffe after County’s ‘keeper had parried a shot by Hopson following the re-start.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Warburton (penalty), 29), Blyth 3 (Wrightson, 32; Liddle, 90 + 2; Rivers, 90 + 3).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Ball, Smalley, O’Halloran (Capt.), McKenna (Thomas, 60), Walker, Oswell, Stopforth (Hampson, 86), Warburton (Dixon, 74).
Unused Subs: Clarke, Ormson.
Booked: Ball, Oswell.
Man of the Match: Stopforth.
Attendance: 3,423 (150 away).