Blyth Spartans started their Evo-Stik League trophy celebrations in fine style on Saturday - as they ended their five-year tenure in the league with a 5-1 triumph over Grantham Town.
Man of the Match Daniel Maguire opened the scoring on 17 minutes, before his back-heel set up Robert Dale to double Blyth’s lead 11 minutes later. The striker struck two more in the second half to reach 30 league goals for the season, before an own goal from Stefan Galenski put Spartans 5-0 up with 19 minutes to go.
Harry Clifton claimed a consolation for the visitors three minutes later, but it did nothing to dampen the spirits of the 1041-strong Croft Park crowd - as Spartans celebrated their promotion to the Vanarama National League North with a trophy presentation and a lap of honour after the final whistle.
After his sudden passing earlier in the week, both sides paid tribute to former England defender Ugo Ehiogu with a minute’s silence before kickoff.
Nathan Buddle then paid his own homage to the former West Brom, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough centre-back within the first two minutes - as he battled in the box to head Dale’s corner towards goal. Ever the opportunist, Luke Armstrong then tried desperately to get a touch on it to divert the ball past Kieran Preston to no avail.
Preston and his opposite number, Paul Woolston, were both forced into tame saves during the first ten minutes. However, the two teams cancelled themselves out in a well-contested start to proceedings at Croft Park.
The Gingerbreads had formed a guard of honour for the Evo-Stik Premier League champions, but they showed no respect when trying to put the ball in the back of Woolston’s net on 13 minutes. Clifton rolled a dangerous ball across the face of goal, but none of teammates were able to get onto the end of it.
The same couldn’t be said for Spartans four minutes later though, when Jarrett Rivers picked up a loose ball 20 yards out and drove into space that just opened up in front of him. The winger expertly placed the ball past the outstretched hand of Preston, which presented Maguire with the simplest of tap ins to open the scoring.
Town were in no mood to roll over for Blyth though, especially when Lee Shaw beat the offside trap and rode the challenge of Ryan Hutchinson inside the area. The striker got his shot away, but Buddle got a fantastic diving block in at his feet to quell the danger.
The visitors would come to rue that miss even more two minutes before the half-hour mark - as Spartans doubled their lead in emphatic style.
Dale danced into the box and made a mockery of the Grantham back-line, before laying the ball off to Maguire inside the box. ‘Nipa’ played an equally impressive back-heel straight back into the path of the Spartans captain, who calmly capped the move by curling the ball inside the post and leaving Preston standing.
The hosts could have been celebrating again five minutes later as well, when Hutchinson made his way up the pitch and avoided a slide tackle on the edge of the area. He laid the ball off to fellow full-back Michael Liddle arriving on the left, but the former Sunderland defender couldn’t pick out the top corner with his bullet strike.
With only five minutes of the first half remaining, Grantham had a glorious chance to reduce their deficit going into the break. The ball fell perfectly into the feet of Filepe Barcelos in the Blyth box, but he flashed his shot wide across Woolston when he really should have done better.
Spartans came back out for the second half looking to pick up where they left off and they did just that, when Maguire stabbed home just three minutes after the restart.
McTiernan’s header from a Rivers cross looped up over Preston and appeared to be going in, but somehow managed to stay out of the Grantham goal after striking the upright. Maguire was there to meet the ball the back post though - as he fired into an empty net for his second of the afternoon.
Both sides seemed happy to settle things down after that, but the Croft Park faithful were back on their feet on the hour to celebrate Maguire’s hat-trick and 30th goal of the season.
Hutchinson burst forward once again and played a great ball through to the 24-year-old, who was left one-on-one inside the area. ‘Nipa’ forcefully fired the ball over the Town keeper and into the back of the net, giving Preston no chance of stopping it from nearly ripping through the back of the net.
Things then went from bad to even worse for the visitors on 71 minutes - as Stefan Galenski diverted Rivers’ cross into his own net. It will be of no consolation to the centre-back, but it was a good finish from him.
Grantham’s great band of travelling fans finally had something to cheer about three minutes later though - as a neat passage of play saw them eventually get the better of Woolston.
Clifton reacted well to a Grantham back-heel of their own in the box, before putting the ball past the on-loan Newcastle United goalkeeper via a deflection off substitute Jordan Laidler’s foot. This caused the vocal section of away supporters - who were in fine voice throughout the game - to optimistically state “We’re going to win 6-5.”
Just five minutes later, however, Spartans nearly had cause to celebrate once more - as Adam Wrightson picked out fellow substitute Matty Pattison with a brilliant cross. The ball came just too quickly for the former South African international though, otherwise he’d surely have been able to guide his volley into Town’s net.
With the game drawing to a close, Dale whipped a free kick just over the bar and Wrightson then had a header cleared off the line. However, that did nothing to dampen the party atmosphere at the final whistle - as Spartans were presented with the Evo-Stik Premier League trophy, to celebrate an outstanding season for the club.
It’s not over just yet for the Spartans though - as they take on current holders North Shields in the Techflow Group Northumberland Senior Cup at St James’ Park on Wednesday night (7:30pm kick off), in what is a repeat of last year’s final.