Alfreton Town up to fourth after narrow home win against Blyth Spartans

Posted by: Will Sendel

Tue 25th April 2023

Matt Rhead’s second-half penalty on his return from injury was the deciding factor in Saturday’s (April 22) gritty 1-0 victory over Blyth Spartans in the National League North.

The win takes the Reds up to fourth, manager Billy Heath hoping it will be enough to secure a place in the play-offs.

The fixture was significant at both ends of the table, Blyth being threatened with relegation and knowing that a win would all but seal their place in the league next campaign.

Rhead, recovered from his rib injury, replaced Tom Denton in the starting XI. Dwayne Wiley also returned to the side, preferred to Peter Dearle who didn’t feature on the bench.

Ofton fans didn’t have long to wait for their team to spark into action, with Yusifu Ceesay having a good opportunity to open the scoring just two minutes in. Bailey Hobson worked the ball to the Spaniard on the left wing, but his effort at goal was equalled by Alex Mitchell in the Spartans net.

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Ceesay continued to excel, the winger having two more promising chances but failing to break the deadlock.

After the hosts dominated early play, Blyth grew into the game with striker Cedric Main’s pace being a particular threat.

Blyth were unlucky not to take the lead on the half hour. JJ O’Donnnell, picking up the ball with his back to goal just outside the Alfreton box, skilfully turned his defender to send a shot just wide of the post, with home keeper George Willis rooted to the spot.

In a half of chances for both teams, the best opportunity fell to Hobson on the half hour. A trademark Rhead flick-on fell invitingly for the midfielder, whose thunderous effort was well saved by Mitchell and pushed behind for a corner.

The end of the half saw Jordan Thewlis booked for a clumsy challenge, but no more efforts of note. Both teams disappeared into the tunnel knowing that the three points up for grabs could do much to define their entire season.

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Blyth began the second half stronger, the North-East outfit having the best opportunity of the game shortly after the restart. Main, latching on to a long kick from Mitchell, used his pace to get past the Reds’ centre-halves and take the ball around Willis, before tapping towards the open goal and wheeling away in celebration. In a moment of defensive brilliance, however, Dwayne Wiley somehow got back to slide the ball off the line and send it behind for a corner.

The deciding moment came in the 54th minute when Michael Liddle was judged to have handled inside the area to give Rhead a chance from 12 yards. Despite prolonged gamesmanship from the Spartans keeper, Rhead kept his composure to tuck the ball away and put Ofton into the lead.

In an entertaining game, both sides continued to attack but lacked the final product.

The final 15 minutes saw Blyth throwing everything at the home side in the hope of snatching a late leveller. O’Donnell came close after somehow finding space in the congested Alfreton box and sending a curling effort towards goal. Willis was equal to it however, acrobatically diving to parry the ball away.

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Ofton maintained a typically resilient display at the back to repel the Spartans, and after eight minutes of added time referee Michael Scholes blew for time to send the home end into joyous celebration.

Billy Heath struggled to stifle his smiles after the game, praising his side for their defensive acumen in the face of the mental and physical strain that the season has undoubtedly exerted.

He said: “I thought the second half was pretty tough…I thought we were magnificent. We had numerous players hanging on by their fingertips.”

The gaffer remained level-headed after the win, refusing to accept a play-off placement until mathematically guaranteed: “It’s a huge three points. We’re not quite there yet but it gives us a huge boost going into the game against Bradford.”

Alfreton will play their game-in-hand in West Yorkshire on Wednesday (April 26). A win against the Green Army would consolidate fourth place and all but guarantee a finish in the play-offs.

Alfreton Town 1 – 0 Blyth Spartans
(Rhead (P) 54)

Official attendance – 706

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