Action-packed drama at Croft Park as Spartans head for Trophy replay

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AN enthralling cup tie between Blyth Spartans FC and Droylsden ended all square at Croft Park, meaning the drama is to be continued at the Butchers Arms Ground on Monday night, where the sides will meet for a replay.

This action packed contest included everything from heated exchanges to unbelievable goals but the post match debate centred on a pivotal moment in the first half. With Blyth trailing by a single goal, Droylsden’s Ciarran Kilheeney handled a Michael Tait header off the goal line, which went unnoticed by referee Steve Smith and his assistant on the far side. Croft Park was incensed and to rub further salt in to Spartans wounds, Kilheeney, who should have been red carded for the incident, scored the equaliser which denied the hosts a place in the Quarter Finals of the FA Trophy.

Even allowing for the most contentious of decision’s, Blyth had the better of this rip roaring tie and should be looking forward to Monday’s draw, opposed to making the trip to Greater Manchester to face the Bloods again.

Mick Tait and his players may have had plenty to bemoan on the full time whistle but they could have no complaints about the way in which they fell behind on the half hour mark. Following a typically feisty and frenetic opening the first bit of real quality came from the right foot of Droylsden’s Mark Boyd, when his unstoppable 35 yard strike flew in to the top corner of Dan Lowson’s net.

In Blyth’s first attack from the restart Stephen Turnbull had an opportunity to level the scores but he failed to find a clean connection with a volley at the back post, following a cross from Dan Groves.

Turnbull was involved again, minutes later when he supplied Michael Tait, who done well to execute a half volley on the turn which was palmed around the post by Paul Phillips in the Droylsden goal.

The incident which would define the match came from the resultant corner in the 34th minute, when Chris Swailes won the initial header for Tait, who’s looping effort was sailing over the head of Kilheeney in to the back of the net, before the raised arm of the Droylsden striker made contact with the ball.

Astonishingly the referee waved play on as scenes reminiscent of Mexico 86 following Maradona’s infamous ‘hand of God’ ensued, as Blyth players raced after the man in black, each indicating an arm was used in the clearance of the ball.

Croft Park was now a cauldron of noise and it was threatening to boil over as frustrations were clearly evident both on and off the pitch. Robbie Dale was booked for a rash tackle on Brownhill and the officials were naturally dreading the walk towards the tunnel at half-time to face the music from a fuming Mick Tait and the apoplectic partisan support.

When all parties returned for the second half, it was evident that the Blyth players had put the hand ball incident to back of their minds and were intent on letting their football do the talking.

Nicky Deverdics and Robbie Dale combined to fashion a chance for Tait, who blazed over from the edge of the area.

Blyth continued to pile on the pressure and this paid off in the 51st minute when Robbie Dale was fouled in the box by Droylsden’s John Hardicker, leaving Steve Smith no option but to point to the spot. The otherwise subdued Paul Brayson stepped up and sent Phillips the wrong way from 12 yards.

Chances for Deverdics and Dale followed the equaliser but neither player could convert and Droylsden almost took the lead again through Ciarran Kilheeney who smashed a volley over the crossbar from 14 yards.

The goal which looked to have booked Blyth a place in the last eight of the FA Trophy arrived on 77 minutes when Turnbull played a low ball in to the area which was helped on by Deverdics to the back post where Dale slid in to score. Croft Park erupted as all the frustrations of the first half had been expressed in the correct manner, through the sheer grit, determination and football pedigree of those in green and white.

However, four minutes after Dale’s goal put Blyth 2-1 ahead, Droylsden caught the home side sleeping from a set piece and restored parity through a Kilheeney header. This proved to be another bitter pill for Mick Tait to swallow.

The equaliser knocked the stuffing out of the hosts as Droylsden were happy to sit back, in the knowledge that they will now be the favourites going in to the game at the Butchers Arms Ground on Monday night. And it is likely Blyth will be going in to the third round replay without Robbie Dale who limped off the pitch with an injury.

Nevertheless there are still plenty of positives for Mick Tait and his players to take in to this contest, having already beaten Droylsden in their own back yard by a three nil score line earlier in the season. They’ll also take great confidence after dominating this game for long periods. On the evidence of this display it is not going to be one for the faint hearted in the North West on Monday night.

Normal service will resume when Blyth will look to continue their winning run in the league against Eastwood Town in the Blue Square Bet North at Croft Park this Saturday.

Blyth Spartans: Lowson, Groves, Cave, Tait, Swailes, Buchanan, Hooks, Turnbull, Brayson, Deverdics, Dale (O’Mahoney).