Blue Square Bet North
Alfreton Town 2
Blyth Spartans 1
Alfreton Town needed a late own goal to reduce the gap behind Nuneaton Town at the top of the table to four points with a massive seven games in hand, when they came up against in-form Blyth Spartans on Tuesday night.
The visitors fought all the way and can consider themselves unlucky to lose a tight, entertaining encounter in such a way, but they profited themselves from a slice of fortune with an equalising penalty that was an innocuous challenge at worst.
Nathan Arnold sent Liam Hearn through in the fifth minute as persistent rain fell at the Impact Arena, but the latter fired just wide of the back post from an ever decreasing angle.
Arnold then set up Anthony Howell five minutes later, but a tame shot was comfortably held by Dan Lowson, then moments later the Spartans’ keeper held Arnold’s low angled drive after Scott Garner had sent him scurrying to the by-line.
Jake Moult fired over after a promising 15th minute run, but seven minutes later Alfreton were ahead when Howell latched on to a superb pass from Laurie Wilson to steer the ball low past the keeper and into the corner of the net.
Connor Franklin then sent Hearn on a run but his shot cleared the bar, then as Blyth came into contention with a flourish after 28 minutes Nicky Deverdics wasted a great chance from ten yards by lashing wide.
Three minutes later an angled Paul Brayson drive was held by Reds’ keeper Chris Mackenzie on his home debut, then in the 34th minute Stephen Turnbull hammered the ball from 15 yards with Mackenzie parrying before Garner blocked the follow-up from Michael Tait.
In the 36th minute Hearn teed up Howell who shot too quickly straight at Alan White, but play swung quickly back to the other end with Turnbull cutting in from the left before unleashing another strong drive that Mackenzie again blocked.
There was a let-off for Alfreton as the momentum stayed firmly with Blyth as Theo Streete completely missed the ball as he tried to cut out Turnbull’s cross-field pass, but fortunately Brayson controlled it with his hands when clear.
Three minutes before the break Moult forced Lowson to turn behind his shot from 22 yards and from Laurie Wilson’s corner Matt Wilson headed over, the first half concluding with a Moult corner being dropped by Lowson with Turnbull hacking clear and a looping Streete header being held by the keeper.
Moult headed the ball into the net from Howell’s 51st minute cross, but a raised flag curtailed celebrations, then three minutes later shots from Moult and Howell were blocked by Chris Swailes and White respectively with successive corners the outcome.
A mysterious penalty award brought Spartans level thirteen minutes into the second half with Howell apparently impeding Deverdics, the spot-kick despatched with aplomb by Brayson.
Lowson was something of a liability for Blyth when he flapped at and missed a deep ball from Laurie Wilson in the 62nd minute, but Dan Groves was able to clear before anyone else reacted, then the nervous keeper fumbled Arnold’s shot but recovered his composure as Moult arrived on the scene.
With 69 minutes elapsed Arnold dragged a clear chance wide of the back post, then Paul Clayton headed over eight minutes later from a Moult free-kick, but back came the visitors and Garner had to intercept as Brayson ran on to Deverdics’ pass then a shot from Deverdics deflected off Garner before being held by Mackenzie.
The deciding goal arrived in the 82nd minute with White heading a deep cross from the left by Jordan Hall past his own keeper at the near post, but almost immediately in search of a quick equaliser Blyth stormed upfield and it needed a vital touch by Franklin to divert a goal-bound shot from Liam O’Mahoney behind for a corner
The Geordies almost had the last word though in stoppage time when Howell slipped whilst helping out in defence and Mackenzie again had to come to the rescue with an astute save from sub Josh Gray.
Alfreton Town: Chris Mackenzie, Laurie Wilson, Connor Franklin, Theo Streete (c), Scott Garner, 6Matt Wilson, Jake Moult, Nathan Arnold (Paul Clayton 73), Anthony Howell, Liam Hearn, Jordan Hall.
Substitutes not used: Ian Ross, Dan Dillon, Paul Lister, Ross Turner.
Blyth Spartans: Dan Lowson, Dan Groves, Phil Cave, Michael Tait, Chris Swailes, Alan White, Neil Hooks, Stephen Turnbull (Josh Gray 85), Paul Brayson (c), Nicky Deverdics, Liam O’Mahoney.
Substitutes not used: John Alexander, Robert Dale, Wayne Buchanan, Jake Cunningham.
Referee: Adrian Holmes of Wakefield.
Goals: Alfreton Town - Anthony Howell (22), Alan White own goal (82). Blyth Spartans - Paul Brayson (58, penalty).
Reds man of the match: Scott Garner.