Pride, passion and commitment in the face of adversity but ultimately Blyth Spartans came away from South Kesteven Sports Stadium empty handed as Grantham Town exacted revenge on Tom Wade’s side after suffering a defeat in Northumberland in September.
Despite being controversially reduced to ten man after Conor Grant was dismissed for a professional foul, Spartans put in a spirited second half display but paid the price for some poor defending during the opening period.
Wade made only one change from Tuesday night’s home win over Droylsden as Grant replaced Michal Misiewicz between the sticks after the Canadian Under-23 international suffered a back injury against the Bloods.
On a chilly Lincolnshire afternoon it was Spartans who were caught cold within the first two minutes.
Gingerbreads skipper Rhys Lewis released winger Ash Burbeary in on goal and he made no mistake as he lashed past Grant from the edge of the box.
Undeterred, Spartans hit back two minutes later. Grant launched a free kick towards the edge of the hosts’ area that was flicked on by Robbie Dale and Sonny Andrews went through and coolly rolled the ball past Danny Haystead.
As the quarter hour mark passed Spartans had a golden chance to go ahead. A Dan Maguire corner from the left saw Haystead flap at the ball and it fell to Arron Wearmouth but he could only volley over from 16 yards.
That miss was punished almost instantly as Jamie McGhee gave the home side a lead they would not surrender.
Full back Jack Andrews broke forward and his pull back found Greg Smith. The striker scuffed a shot goalwards that fortunately found its way to his strike parter McGhee who rolled the ball into the net past Grant.
Fifteen minutes before the break the home side extended the lead that was as much down to a lack of concentration in the Spartans defence as it was to anything the Gingerbreads could offer.
A free kick from the right wing by Burbeary found an unmarked Smith and he made no mistake with a header from eight yards.
Spartans came within an inch of halving the deficit five minutes before the break as Arjun Purewal flicked a Maguire corner against the far post with Haystead stranded.
Then came the most controversial five minutes of the season so far for Wade’s side as they found themselves on the wrong end of two debatable decisions.
Firstly a long ball into the Spartans area saw Grant come to collect easily only for Smith to pole-axe the former Gretna stopper.
A long pause in play followed with Grant visibly shaken and even vomiting on the pitch. Referee Bradshaw only showed Smith a yellow card when a more severe punishment seemed likely.
Then came the moment that turned the uphill challenge Spartans faced into something more like an Everest type expedition.
Smith was released in on goal and got to the ball before Grant, nicking it past the keeper and just wide of the post. But Grant collided with the front man and referee Bradshaw brought play back to award a spot kick to the home side and dismiss the Spartans keeper.
With no back-up between the sticks on the bench, Purewal faced the penalty but could do nothing as Burbeary clinically finished with a fine strike into the top right hand corner.
The half-time whistle went soon after with referee Bradshaw feeling the wrath of the Green Army members pitchside.
Dale took over from Purewal in goal at half-time but Wade gave the same players the chance to make up for a poor first half.
They set about the task in fine fashion with Wearmouth and Damen Mullen going close to reducing the arrears within five minutes of the restart.
Chances came and went but Spartans were unexpectedly on top.
First to every loose ball and putting the home side on the back foot they dominated possession and territory, much to the delight of the Spartans faithful.
The hour mark passed and was marked with another chance, and again it fell to Mullen. The right back cut inside on his left foot just inside the area but his effort was parried away by Haystead.
With 12 minutes left Spartans got the goal their endeavour deserved.
A Dale punt down field saw Wearmouth break into the area under heavy pressure from Miller and the Gingerbreads right back brought down the former Bishop Auckland man and referee Bradshaw awarded the second spot kick of the day.
Andrews stepped up to take the kick but it was well saved by Haystead, however Andrews was first to the loose ball and notched his fourth goal of his loan spell from Spennymoor Town with a straightforward finish.
Sensing a small chance of a remarkable comeback, Spartans set siege to the home goal.
With two minutes left on the clock Danny Parker saw a header drop just wide of the far post as the centre back got on the end of an Ian Watson cross into the box.
The full-time whistle drew closer but there was one final chance and it fell to Andrews. A Lewis Horner cross saw Haystead flap again and the loose ball dropped at the striker’s feet, but he snatched at the chance and fired over from 12 yards.
That chance was the final action of the game as Bradshaw blew the full-time whistle.
If league points were awarded for bravery and sheer graft in the face of adversity then Spartans would have travelled back to Northumberland with another three points on the board.
In reality they paid the price for some sloppy defensive work and some debatable decisions as they suffered only their third Evo-Stik Northern Premier League away defeat of the season.
Spartans’ man of the match Ian Watson.
Blyth Spartans: Grant, Mullen (Buddle 75), Purewal, Parker, Watson, Wade, Horner, Wearmouth (Hubbard 87), Dale, Andrews( Cummings 72), Maguire. Subs not used: Kendrick, Hooks, Airey.