After Blyth Spartans’s 1-0 win over Stafford Rangers put them just five points away from sealing the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier League title, manager Alun Armstrong has revealed that he wants to clinch promotion at Croft Park against Halesowen Town as a `thank you` to the supporters.
Sean Reid’s 20th goal of the season secured a hard-fought three points, which helped Spartans to capitalise on Spennymoor Town’s failure to hold on to their lead against Nantwich Town.
With both Blyth and Spennymoor playing on Tuesday night, there is a chance Armstrong’s side could seal Vanarama National League North promotion if they win at Rushall Olympic and Town lose away at potential play-off rivals Matlock Town.
However, the Spartans manager would like to seal the club’s return to the second rung of English non-League in front of the Croft Park faithful on Saturday as a reward to the fans for their fantastic support throughout the season.
Armstrong stated: “You always want to clinch promotions or league titles in front of your own fans, without a shadow of a doubt. You want to do it for them as a thank you for their support.
“However, there’s a great group of away fans that are special to the club – Cannock and Coventry, among others – and it would be lovely for them to be there as well when we do it. To be honest, we still have to concentrate – as it’s not over yet and I’ll be telling them that.
“I really hope we can get it done in front of our home fans against Halesowen on Saturday, but we just have to make sure we get the three points at Rushall and look forward to the Saturday after that.”
A sense of relief swept over the Spartans squad at Stafford at the final whistle, after being pushed all the way by the mid-table side. Armstrong saw a different side to his side on Saturday, which left him full of praise for their battling spirit and the way they dealt with a disciplined Rangers side.
The 42-year-old added: “I was delighted with the three points, without a doubt. We were outstanding.
“We battled really hard, we stuck to the game plan, we knew what to expect from them on a dry bobbly pitch and that meant we could play the type of football we usually play. We had to deal with something different, which was them them lumping it up to the big man up top and dealing with the runners off him.
“Once the lads got to grips with that, I thought the lads did exceptionally well. I thought we were the better team by a mile.
“First half, I think it did take us about 25 minutes to get going and the long journey probably didn’t help. You look at how far we’ve come to where the lads started though and they worked their socks off.
“I just knew we’d score in the end – as I’ve said in plenty of these post-match interviews that I know we’ll always score, because there are so many goals in this team.”
While man of the match and goalscorer Reid took all of the plaudits for a fantastic performance, Armstrong was quick to praise all of the `unsung heroes` in green and white at Marston Road.
He added: “I think there was a lot of unsung heroes out there at Stafford. It wasn’t the nice football that we’re used to seeing at Croft Park, it was the ugly side and we were dealing with things we don’t normally have to deal with.
“I looked at every single one of them when they came in and they thoroughly deserved the praise that they got. They worked their socks off and fought for every second ball.
“Once we got our noses in front, it was just a shame that we couldn’t get a second goal to put it to bed. It could have went either way – as they had a couple of chances – but Paul Woolston made some really good saves and their keeper got man of the match, which probably tells its own story.
“I think it just shows how well they did to nullify us and also how good a job we did at nullifying them as well.”
Much of the relief felt by Spartans at the end was avoiding a slip up against a side sat in fifteenth place in the league. Despite their mid-table position, the Blyth boss insists he always knew Stafford could be a potential banana skin in his side’s title hunt.
Armstrong revealed: “I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game. I knew from the game we played against them at Croft Park that it would be tricky, because of their style and how they play football.
“I’ve looked at their results and I’ve looked at how many goals they’ve scored and conceded. They don’t score many and they don’t let too many in either, so we knew that it would probably be the odd goal that would win it.
“I’m not saying they’re in a false position, because they haven’t scored enough goals to be further up, but they are a difficult team to beat – as not too many teams have turned them over this season.
“That’s why I’m so happy with the lads and their performance, because I saw a different side of us at Stafford.”
And while Halesowen at home on Saturday is the game that Armstrong aims to clinch the Premier League title, he went on to say that – even though he wants his players to enjoy this moment of their careers – he just wants the job done as quickly as possible.
Armstrong said: “You can sense it with the lads that they’re always looking forward to the next game now. For me, it doesn’t matter where the next game is, we’re just looking for the next three points to put on the board and get the job done that’s required.
“The results all went our way again at the weekend, so it’s looking good. The lads are happy and, if I was in their position, I’d be eagerly awaiting each game as well.
“We just need to make sure we do the job as quickly as possible”.