BLYTH Spartans rounded off a nightmare week of away travels with their third defeat on the bounce as Kevin Wilson’s Ilkeston gained revenge for their defeat at Croft Park two weeks ago with a 3-1 win.
A Joe Kendrick header had got Spartans back into the game at 2-1 after earlier goals from Aaron Hooton and James Reid had put the Robins in front before an injury time clincher from Gary Ricketts ensured his side took all three points.
Spartans’ management team of Tom Wade and John Cornforth reverted to a 4-4-2 formation with the returning Ryan McGorrigan partnering Dan Maguire up front.
Damen Mullen returned to the starting line-up in place of Neal Hooks and Mark Cook retained his place in goal for the third consecutive game.
It was the home side who had the first chance, in the third minute, as the strike partnership Hooton and Ricketts combined but the latter could only curl a shot over the bar from the edge of the box.
Spartans’ first chance fell to Maguire as he got on the end of a Robbie Dale cross, but he saw his effort cleared off the line by his namesake Joe in the Robins back line.
On the quarter of an hour mark, Spartans came within a whisker of the opener.
Lee Mason drifted past two men and fed the ball to McGorrigan 20 yards from goal. He took one touch and crashed a shot off the crossbar with Robins keeper Chris Martin grasping at thin air.
It would be a miss that was to cost Spartans dear as on the half hour mark the home side had the lead.
Kendrick was penalised for a foul in the area on Hooton after the Irishman had been put under pressure by a poor clearance from Cook.
Hooton stepped up himself and sent Cook the wrong way, firing low into the bottom left hand corner.
Dale was taken off as the spot kick was taken with suspected concussion, Phil Airey replacing him on the left side of midfield.
Just two minutes after the opener, Hooton nearly doubled his own tally and that of his side as he struck a well hit shot from 12 yards against the Spartans crossbar.
Spartans upped the pressure heading into the half-time interval and Maguire was unfortunate to see his neat chip just drop past Martin’s far post after being released by Mason.
But that miss meant the home side went into the break a goal to the good.
With the words of Wade and Cornforth ringing in their ears about not conceding an early goal in the second period, Spartans conspired to do exactly that.
Jack Watts was given too much time in the middle of the park and sent James Reid through on goal.
He clipped the ball past Cook who managed to get a touch but could not prevent it going into the net, leaving Spartans with a mountain to climb.
That mountain became a little easier with another Blyth goal from a set-piece.
Stephen Turnbull sent in a corner from the right which was flicked on by Craig Hubbard at the near post. That flick found Kendrick ten yards out and he crashed a header into the net.
That was Kendrick’s eighth of the season and in the process he became Spartans’ top goalscorer.
With just under 20 minutes on the clock, Spartans began a big push for an equaliser.
Some tidy work from substitute Hooks saw him find McGorrigan 25 yards out. He stepped closer to goal and smashed a shot inches wide of the far post with Martin beaten.
Spartans kept the pressure on and they were always looking more and more vulnerable to a quick break, and that would prove to be their undoing as the clock ticked into injury time.
Kane Richards broke away down the Blyth left, escaping the challenge of Richie Slaughter, and as Cook closed him down he rolled the ball across goal to find Ricketts. The veteran striker did what he has done against Spartans many times down the years and made no mistake, tapping into an empty net to seal all three points for the Robins.
Spartans now move on to a tough task Easter Monday with league leaders North Ferriby United visiting Croft Park looking to tighten their grip on the top spot in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League.
Spartans man of the match: Joe Kendrick.
Blyth Spartans: Cook, Mullen, Kendrick, Turnbull (Stanger 78), Buchanan, Slaughter, Mason, McGorrigan, Hubbard (Hooks 65), Maguire, Dale (Airey 30). Subs not used: Mellish, Grant.