LEADERS Stanley are within sight of the finishing line, well clear of the pack and should seal promotion with games to spare barring a spectacular Devon Loch-style collapse. But they put their fans through a nail-biting finale to a game they ought to have won far more comfortably.
Stanley went into an eighth-minute lead. Breaking up a Blyth attack, playmaker Mike Marsh hit an instant ball out of defence which sent striker Lutel James scampering down the inside-left channel. He outpaced the pursuing Ian Dixon and delightfully slipped his shot past onrushing keeper Phil Naisbett with the outside of his right foot for the game's opening goal.
The Reds' lead was doubled on 19 minutes. Steve Halford's powerful header from a corner was cleared off the line by Justin Keegan. But when full-back Steve Hollis returned the ball into the danger area from wide on the left, Andy Proctor's speculative volley from the edge of the box was perfectly met and sailed over Naisbett into the net.
Blyth grabbed a shock lifeline deep into first-half injury time. Gareth Williams bent in a free-kick from the left-hand touchline and David McMahon stooped to power a header home virtually unchallenged.
The home side re-established their two-goal cushion within 80 seconds of the restart. Marsh and James combined in slick fashion to send Russell Payne to the by-line and his exquisite cross was met by a delicate glancing header from Paul Mullin which directed the ball into the net off the far post - a stunning goal in both its creation and execution.
But just before the hour, determined Blyth hit back. Booth cut a ball back from the left and when winger Steve Stewart's shot proved too hot for Speare to handle, McMahon was first to react and stabbed the loose ball home.
Stanley endured a nervous final period but held on for a vital win.
- The full match report is in this week's Observer