Avenue face a stern test this Saturday, as they visit a Blyth Spartans side riding high on a wave of confidence after back-to-back 3-0 victories.
Blyth disposed of Tamworth on the Lambs’ home turf last night, with long-serving winger Robbie Dale netting a hat-trick. Mere days before, they had comfortably defeated fellow play-off contenders Brackley Town at Croft Park thanks to a Dan Maguire brace and a strike from Jarrett Rivers.
Saturday’s opponents lie fifth in the league table, six points ahead of Avenue and one goal ahead of Mark Bower’s side on goal difference. Avenue do, however, have a game-in-hand on their rival Green Army.
February was kickstarted with a 5-0 rout of Gainsborough Trinity for Avenue, but the play-off chasers slipped to a 1-0 defeat to Darlington last Saturday following a second-half strike from former Bradford City midfielder David Syers. A win on Saturday would only be Avenue’s second of the calendar year, but they still find themselves firmly in contention for a top-seven finish thanks to impressive form in the latter stages of 2017.
Defender Mark Ross was the only absentee in last week’s defeat to Darlington and is once again a doubt for the trip to Croft Park. Assistant Manager Danny Boshell is available for selection after serving his suspension, but Mark Bower may opt to hand another start to loanee Dan Pybus.
Take a look at our guide to Saturday’s opponents below…
42-year old Alun Armstrong took charge of Blyth in September 2016 and guided the Spartans to the Northern Premier League title in his first-ever campaign in the dugout. As a player, he represented Avenue’s neighbours Bradford City during a brief loan spell in the 2003-2004 season, as well as featuring for Yorkshire sides Huddersfield Town and Doncaster Rovers on loan in 2000 and 2006. His most successful spells, however, were enjoyed outside of Yorkshire. The former forward made 160 appearances for Stockport County between 1994 and 1998 after ascending the youth ranks of Newcastle United, and found the back of the net on 49 occasions for the Hatters. He also represented Middlesbrough, Ipswich Town, Darlington and Rushden & Diamonds in a career spanning 14 years, before retiring after a very brief stint with Newcastle Blue Star. Armstrong famously scored the only goal during Ipswich’s 1-0 win over Inter Milan in a UEFA Cup first leg tie in 2001.
24-year old winger Rivers made ten appearances for Blackpool before re-joining Blyth in 2016 and extended his contract with the club last month. A pacey winger known for being a constant threat to defenders, he made the headlines in December 2014 after his 90th-minute winner dumped Hartlepool United out of the FA Cup in the second round and saw Blyth advance in the competition.
Despite reaching the age of 33, Dale remains one of the biggest talents outside of league football and was on the scoresheet in Blyth’s defeat to Avenue back in November. He has made over 500 appearances in the green and white of Blyth since marking his debut with a hat-trick against Emley (then known as Wakefield & Emley) in 2005 and has helped the club reach the third round of the FA Cup on two occasions. The winger was named the Evo-Stik Premier Division Player of the Year in 2015 and turned down a contract with Oxford United as a 21-year-old. He will line-up on Saturday looking to continue his rich vein of form having netted a hat-trick in Blyth’s recent win over Tamworth.
A forward who can also operate on each flank, Maguire is certainly one for defenders to watch out for. He scored 23 goals in 42 appearances as Blyth romped to the Northern Premier League title last season and has represented England C. Maguire is no stranger to football in Yorkshire, having spent two months with Halifax Town in 2015. The dangerous attacker will be looking to add to his already impressive goal tally for this season, having notched 16 so far.
Written by Tom Coates