On a very wet Saturday afternoon at Croft Park Blyth Spartans put on a Christmas cracker to beat Birmingham-based Stourbridge in a seven-goal encounter.
Spartans made two changes from the team that beat Frickley away 3-2 in midweek with Alex Nicholson coming in for Andrew Cartwright at right back and Stephen Turnbull replacing Neal Hooks in central midfield.
Stourbridge took the game to Blyth with energetic, high tempo play stifling the home team and preventing the type of performance which has seen the free-scoring Croft Park side rise to the summit of the Northern Premier League.
Karl Hawley and Justin Richards linked up well to stretch Spartans’ defence on a number of occasions.
Blyth suffered an early blow when Dan Maguire was forced off with a knee injury after contesting a ball with Stuart Pierpoint. Arran Wearmouth came off the bench for the home side.
Things got worse for Blyth as on 13 minutes a Ben Billingham high ball in to the box was headed past Fabian Otte with some ease to put Stourbridge ahead.
Then two minutes later the dominant visitors increased their lead when another cross was headed by Justin Richards beyond Otte.
An impressive 523 attendance on the last Saturday before Christmas were jolted in to life by the tenacious Stourbridge and the Spartans players responded with full on high energy attacking play featuring Wearmouth and Robbie Dale having success down the flanks.
On 33 minutes a loose ball running out of the box was somehow reverse hooked back in to the area by Dale and the incoming Sean Reid powered a header past Stourbridge goalkeeper Charlie Price to reduce the deficit.
Then seven minutes later Dale again received the ball on the right and a jinking run in to the box had the visitors defence in turmoil. Dale’s low shot in to the far corner saw the hosts level at 2-2.
Croft Park hardly had time to draw breath when Chris Lait powered through the home midfield and his hard 25-yard shot rebounded back off the cross bar to drop nicely for Karl Hawley to slide the ball past Otte and put the visitors 3-2 up to give them a half-time lead.
The second half started with increasingly heavy rain and a swirling wind. Nevertheless a determined Blyth laid siege to the Stourbridge goal with Reid, Wearmouth and Dale being a constant threat.
A Dale free kick into the Stourbridge wall saw hand ball appeals turned down by referee Barry Gordon.
Although Spartans pushed forward, Stourbridge, one of the best sides seen at Croft Park this season, were capable of an upset, which the first half demonstrated, but the Blyth centre back pairing of Danny Parker and Ryan Hutchinson coped well with the visitors’ forward line, as did full backs Jordan Watson and Nicholson whilst also supporting the wing play.
In the 68th minute a Stourbridge attack was broken down by a Stephen Turnbull, Matty Wade and Michael Richardson combination. The resulting attack lead to a through ball to Reid who calmly took the ball around Stourbridge goalkeeper Price who was adjudged to have brought down the impressive midfileder and the referee pointed to the spot and issued a yellow card in the process.
Turnbull placed the ball on the spot then put it to the keeper’s left to level it at 3-3.
In the last 20 minutes Stourbridge were finding it hard to contain the rampant Spartans.
Some resolute defending and fine goalkeeping saw a succession of Blyth corners and attacks thwarted, and with referee Gordon indicating five minutes additional time, Blyth left it until the 95th minute to secure victory when a strong Nicholson run in to the box saw his drive fly past Price in to the Stourbridge net to lift the roof off Croft Park.
The win maintains Blyth’s eight-point lead at the top of the Northern Premier League with Spartans travelling to fellow title contenders and third placed Workington on Boxing Day and hosting fifth placed Darlington at home on Monday, December 28, kick-off 3pm.
Blyth Spartans: F Otte, A Nicholson, J Watson, D Parker, R Hutchinson, S Turnbull, M Richardson, S Reid, D Maguire (A Wearmouth 5), M Wade, R Dale. Subs not used: N Hooks, D Morse, A Cartwright, P Robinson.