National League North: Curzon Ashton 0-1 Blyth Spartans
Levi Amantchi’s second half strike consigned Curzon Ashton to a sixth league defeat in a row and extended their winless run in all competitions to twelve games.
It was a tense game between two sides easily distinguishable as fighting at the bottom end of the table and they both wasted presentable chances before substitute Amantchi’s back post tap in 15 minutes from time gave the visitors all three points.
The result means the Nash remain 19th but are now just a point off the bottom after failing to beat Blyth Spartans for the third time in the last three weeks.
Mark Bradshaw has been handed no favours in recent weeks as injuries and suspensions have ravaged the Curzon squad, remarkably meaning that only two players who started in the opening day 5-0 win over Bradford (Park Avenue) made the XI for Saturday afternoon’s match.
None of the five men who made up the Curzon defence that day and who conceded only twice in their first four games – ‘keeper Cam Mason and defenders Andy Halls, Mo Ali, Olly Thornley and Josh Askew – were available for selection, meaning James Baillie was given his first league start in over a year.
Also in the starting line-up was 18-year old Burnley goalkeeper Harry Allen, drafted in on a short term loan for this game as Mason continues his recovery.
Indeed, Allen was one of three new players in the team with defensive midfielder James Neild named on the bench and Wigan Athletic loanee Divin Baningime given his first start in place of Jack Banister.
As expected, Callum Roberts was the early dangerman for the visitors and he forced Allen into the first save of the game five minutes in when he cut onto his left foot before scuffing his shot.
Roberts – scorer of eight goals in his last four games – was a constant livewire but credit must be given to stand-in left back Liam Davies and Isaac Sinclair who doubled up and mostly contained the winger.
The Nash looked the stronger outfit as the first half progressed and Sinclair came close to the opening goal when he skipped past three defenders and let fly from 25 yards, Blyth goalkeeper Mark Foden anxiously watching the ball fly just wide of his top left-hand corner.
The hosts were, however, thankful to Danny Shaw for making two fantastic challenges to prevent Blyth having clear shots on goal, first blocking Roberts’ effort before expertly tackling Michael Sweet inside the box.
Daniel Trickett-Smith almost got the second half off to an explosive start when his 25-yard free kick was clawed away by Foden. Callum Saunders was first to the rebound, but the angle proved too acute for the Nash striker to capitalise.
They may have only picked up their first league win two weeks ago against Telford, but Spartans have been a much-improved side in the past month and should have taken the lead in the 51st minute when Roberts found Olly Scott in acres of space ten yards out. He tried picking his spot, but Allen stood up well to make a terrific block with his left leg.
Both sides knew that only three points would suffice, and it was Blyth who made the crucial breakthrough as they pounced on Matt Regan’s loss of possession inside his own half, Anthony Callaghan’s low cross gift wrapped for Amantchi at the back post.
Of encouragement to Nash fans was the second half return of Sean Miller from injury, making his first appearance since September 2nd and he was immediately involved as he let fly from the edge of the box only to be denied by a flying block from Blyth centre back Lewis Ritson.
Sinclair – who was Curzon’s most creative outlet throughout – flashed a ball across goal that evaded everyone, but Blyth were able to hang on and secure a hugely important victory.
By Sam Hendry