Blyth Spartans lose two-goal lead as Stafford Rangers secure a draw

Luke Armstrong scores for Blyth Spartans against Stafford Rangers. Picture by Bill Broadley
Luke Armstrong scores for Blyth Spartans against Stafford Rangers. Picture by Bill Broadley

Blyth Spartans dropped two points on Saturday as Stafford Rangers came from two down at Croft Park.

The visitors went in to the game on the back of a nine-match unbeaten run and, based on the way they approached the contest, it was not hard to see how that impressive statistic had been achieved.

The early exchanges were fairly even, although Stafford came close when Elliot Hodge turned smartly on the edge of the penalty box and fired narrowly wide of Spartans’ keeper Paul Woolston’s far post.

A Kyle Perry shot went close to giving the visitors the lead, but Woolston was relieved to see it fly wide.

As play shifted from end to end, Spartans’ Matty Pattison received a precise ball from Robert Dale but could only strike his effort directly at Adam Whitehouse in the Stafford goal.

After 15 minutes Woolston was once more in the action, this time collecting comfortably a Hodge pile-driver.

Within minutes Luke Armstrong pounced to but Blyth ahead. The Stafford defence failed to clear and he was quick to get the ball out of his feet and finish accurately from eight yards.

The Blyth fans were still celebrating when Armstrong put Spartans two up only a minute later. Daniel Maguire put the young striker in on goal and he ran unerringly down the middle of the park, side-stepped the diving Whitehouse and swiftly dispatched the ball in to the bottom corner.

The visitors reacted positively and on 22 minutes they pulled a goal back. A deep cross was not dealt with and Izak Reid had the relatively simple task of heading the ball down and past Woolston.

On the half hour mark both sides came close to scoring when, first, a Kris Taylor free kick was held well by Woolston before a Dale effort was only just cleared by Kieren Morris.

However, it was Stafford who did score on 36 minutes when the Blyth defence allowed a long high ball to drop over their heads and a grateful Reid capitalised with a fine driven effort which sailed beyond Woolston’s right hand.

In the dying minutes of the half both sides went close. A beautifully flighted Dale effort seemed destined for the top corner but was somehow headed away before Blyth’s Andrew Cartwright needed to react swiftly to clear a dangerous Kyle Perry cross while his team-mate Stephen Turnbull had to alert to head away from goal as the visitors pressed.

After the break Blyth came out with more determination and playing at a higher tempo.

Damen Mullen fired over from 25 yards before a superb Pattison shot was very well saved by Whitehouse. Then collecting a Dale cross Maguire then could only guide his header just wide.

Blyth’s efforts were rewarded on 68 minutes when Armstrong was brought down in the box. But taking the resulting penalty himself, his effort was blocked by the goalkeeper and the danger cleared.

Pattison again came close before Spartans defender Nathan Buddle was on hand to head the ball off the line.

The game continued to be an entertaining affair as Stafford’s Richard Batchelor drifted past two Blyth defenders only to rush his shot and slice wide.

It was the hosts, however, who looked the more likely to snatch a winner in the final ten minutes.

Dale did well to pick out Pattison on the right and the South African pulled out another excellent save from Whitehead.

The former Newcastle United and Norwich City player then had another effort lashed away before Blyth substitute Sean Reid acrobatically fired over.

Defender Richard Pell, on for Ryan Hutchinson, could not get enough purchase on a back post header before, in the final minute, Dale snatched at his left foot effort and failed to trouble Whitehouse.

A 2-2 draw was probably a fair result in an eventful, keenly fought and intriguing encounter.

Blyth Spartans: Woolston, Cartwright, Liddle, Mullen (Reid 78), Buddle, Hutchinson (Pell 60), Pattison, Turnbull, Maguire, Armstrong, Dale. Subs not used: Nicholson, Wade, Richardson.

Attendance: 589.