BLYTH Spartans were just 30 seconds away from recording their first league victory since September after Glen Taylor’s second half strike had put them ahead before referee Andrew Miller awarded Altrincham a controversial 95 minute penalty - which Damian Reeves duly tucked away - provoking uproar on the terraces of Croft Park.
Ironically, Miller was in charge the last time Spartans won in the Blue Square Bet North – against Boston United – but this balmy Tuesday night is certainly one he will never forget as home supporters made their feelings clear on full-time.
The incident which sparked such vitriol amongst the partisan crowd came about when James Lawrie went to ground under a challenge from Blyth’s Richie Slaughter in the area, prompting Miller to point to the spot without hesitation.
Even the visiting radio commentators from the Cheshire club were heard labelling the decision ‘harsh’ but these words will be of little consolation to Tommy Cassidy and his battling side, who had victory snatched away from them in the cruellest of circumstances.
It’s a shame in fact that a refereeing decision should overshadow what was actually an enthralling game of football.
The visitors set the tempo early on with a neat passing move which ended when Reeves saw his close range shot blocked by Wayne Buchanan.
The Robins threatened again minutes later when Christopher Lynch tested Spartans’ goalkeeper Robert Birdsall with a powerful effort.
For a spell midway through the opening period it became quite a heated affair, typified by a late challenge from Michael Twiss on Wayne Phillips which resulted in a booking for the Altrincham forward.
Lee Mason was forced out of action through injury on 22 minutes and his replacement Shaun Utterson soon produced Blyth’s first shot on target when he cut inside before attempting to curl the ball into the far corner - with only a fingertip save from Adam Reid denying him.
Spartans had their best spell just after half-time which culminated in them taking a deserved lead on 57 minutes.
Before notching his second goal of 2012 Taylor had came close with a header which Reid managed to hold on to.
Neal Hooks had also threatened with a half volley which looped over the crossbar.
Pressure finally told when Wayne Phillips supplied the overlapping Phil Cave whose’ cross-shot found Taylor at the back post – leaving the striker with the simple task of tapping into an unguarded net.
The seventh placed visitors were not going to go down without a fight but Blyth defended resolutely, with Buchanan and Jordon Mellish in particular putting their bodies on the line for the cause.
Such was Blyth’s aerial domination in their own box the away side were limited to only long range efforts – with Shaun Densmore flashing a shot just wide from 25 yards before Birdsall showed terrific hands in holding a powerful strike by Lawrie.
Pivotal moment number one arrived on 91 minutes when Utterson should have put the result beyond any doubt but instead fired his shot over the crossbar and out of the ground from 12 yards after playing a neat one-two with Jamie Mole.
It was to prove costly as with time running out for Altrincham a long ball was hoisted into the Spartans area and taken down by Lawrie who fell to the ground in a theatrical manner under a challenge from Slaughter.
Having endured a disastrous campaign so far, Miller made sure that the nightmare continued for Spartans fans by awarding a penalty.
And to complete a script that not even the most creative minds could dream up; the player to take the spot kick could only be the Blue Square Bet North’s leading goal scorer.
As expected, Reeves fired past Birdsall to score his 28th of the campaign and destroy Blyth’s hopes of a vital three points in the process.
Spartans are now 12 points from safety and will make the trip to Manchester on Saturday to face Altrincham’s North West neighbours, Droylsden at The Butcher’s Arms Ground.
Blyth Spartans: Birdsall, Slaughter, Cave, Harrop, Buchanan, Mellish, Mason (Utterson), Hooks, Mole, Taylor (Richardson), Phillips