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Play-off bound Spartans are doing it Armstrong’s way

By Mark Carruthers

Blyth Spartans manager Alun Armstrong cut a relaxed figure as he invited me into his new office at Croft Park.

“You’ve done well to get an office,” I jokingly suggest.

“One of a few changes I needed to make,” he replies, before adding, “I wanted things done the way I am used to and the way I want.”

That philosophy has worked well on and off the pitch in the 14 months since Armstrong replaced Tom Wade at the Croft Park helm.

In that time Spartans have secured an Evo-Stik Northern Premier League title win, a Northumberland Senior Cup triumph and an unexpected National League North play-off push.

Spartans have progressed with style and substance in their play, with their slick passing game winning many admirers, just like Armstrong did in a distinguised playing career that saw him play in the Premier League with both Middlesbrough and Ipswich (right).

It is not without dissenters, with their FA Trophy exit to Bromley seeing the Spartans players receive criticism from a minority of the Croft Park crowd for over-playing in dangerous areas.

Determined

Two goals were handed to a prolific Bromley, as they dumped Armstrong’s side out of the Trophy two weeks ago.

But the Spartans boss isn’t one for changing at the slightest hint of criticism. No, the criticism seems to make him more determined to do things his way.

He said: “I ask them to play how I want to play. It costs us sometimes, I’ll admit that.

“But I believe that is how football should be played. You won’t stop me playing that way, that’s how we play, that’s why wehave signed certain players.

“You look at the players and I demand more. I’m always trying to strengthen them, work with them and the great thing about this group of players is they want to improve.

“The lads believe in what we are doing here, and the way we are playing. That’s the most important thing.”

Armstrong’s way has led Spartans to battle it out with a number of former Football League clubs at the top end of the National League North.

Wins at York City and Stockport County have been notable highs, but the Spartans boss is hungry for more and isn’t content with what he has seen.

“The way I am, the way the staff are and the way the players are, we always demand more. We want to push on and we are in a great position, but we have earned that.

“I won’t say we will get in the play-offs, but I will say we will give it a really good go. We have gone above expectations, but we have to enjoy that. Our budget can’t match others in the league, but these lads aren’t here for money; they are playing here because they enjoy it”

Armstrong admits missing out on the play-offs would be a disappointment, despite early-season predictions of an impending relegation battle.

“I’d be disappointed because of the start we have had. Nothing scares us. We have played everyone in the league, and we have given everyone a game. We don’t fear anyone, but we know that no game is a ‘given’. The play-offs were never our target; we wanted to consolidate but we will do all we can to get there now.”

As he sits back in his new office, it’s clear to see that the future seems bright for Armstrong at Spartans.

As long as it’s done his way.

 

*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper, which is available every Sunday and Monday

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