Numbers game for Spartans as they put five past Stocksbridge

NORTHERN Premier League football returned to Croft Park on Tuesday night in some style - and it was all about the numbers game.

It is six years since football at this level had been played at Croft Park, and for their home opener Tommy Cassidy gave four players their competitive home debut and a further two made theirs from the bench.

Craig Farrell and Robbie Dale both scored two goals as Spartans put five past Stockbridge Park Steels and a one in the clean sheet tally for the season.

If Saturday’s gut wrenching injury time defeat at Witton Albion was on the negative end of the spectrum of footballing emotions, then this win was very much at the positive end.

Spartans’ first home fixture of the season saw them without Carl Jones, who was ruled out with a shoulder injury and replaced by Jordon Mellish.

However, winger Lee Mason passed a fitness test and took his place on the right side of a midfield four that saw one other change with Shaun Vipond replacing Sam Hodgson.

The away side were looking to bounce back from an equally tough weekend that saw them contrive to turn a 4-2 lead on 70 minutes into a 5-4 defeat at full-time at Chorley.

It was Spartans who started the on top, and they could have taken the lead inside a minute when a Shaun Vipond chipped pass found Phil Airey and the former Newcastle United striker hit a well struck volley across the goal and his effort was well parried by Steels keeper Collinge.

Two minutes later and it was Airey at it again, but this time the provider was strike partner Craig Farrell, who laid off a ball to him at the edge of the box but Collinge was again equal to his effort.

Spartans thought they had taken the lead on 12 minutes when a Dale cross was cleared to the edge of the box to be met by Spartans left back Joe Kendrick who sent a well controlled effort goalwards.

As the ball rolled into the far corner of the net the assistant raised his flag up and signalled for an infringement or offside, clarification on that one may still be required.

A rare quiet spell in the game followed with Spartans having the majority of possession without really troubling Steels.

However, the visitors had a five-minute spell when they could and maybe should have taken the lead.

A ball was played in behind the Spartans defence by striker Fish that found Brooker, and the winger went one-on-one with Conor Grant but the Spartans keeper saved smartly at his near post.

Two headers in two minutes were then put over Grant’s bar as Carr and Adams were equally wasteful in front of goal.

The half ended on a sour note with the game turning niggly and referee Liddle having to produce several yellow cards, although there could have been more.

The sides went into the interval unable to break the stalemate and there was little indication of what was to follow in an action packed second period.

Just two minutes had gone in the second half when Spartans took the lead, and given the attacking talent in Dale, Farrell and Airey, it was may be a surprise that it was centre back Mellish who got the opener.

A quick corner from Kendrick saw the visitors caught unawares and when a one-two was played with Dale, Kendrick found himself with the perfect angle to get a dangerous cross in. The delivery was perfect and took Collinge out of the game and allowed Mellish to bundle the ball home from six yards out.

The lead was doubled three minutes later and on a night where Spartans played some wonderful football, it was a classic route one effort.

A long free kick was sent upfield by Grant and found its way to just inside the Steels area where Dale jumped higher than Collinge and the ball rolled into an empty net.

The game turned a bit scrappy following Dale’s goal and again the referee would be forced to show yellow cards, but it was still Spartans playing the better football, and by now they were giving the Stocksbridge side a lesson in finishing.

Although they made the Croft Park faithful wait until just past the 80th minute to extend their lead by which time Tom Berj, Mason and Airey had been replaced by Sam Hodgson and home debutants Paul King and Ash Davis.

Dale celebrated a century of Spartans goals on Saturday at Witton but in this game he produced a pass that would equal any goalscoring effort he has made.

Collecting the ball inside his own half he fired an inch perfect ball in behind the Steels defence and released Farrell.

He calmly rolled the ball under the keeper for his first competitive strike in a Spartans shirt.

With two minutes left former York City and Carlisle United striker Farrell had doubled his own tally and got Spartans’ fourth in what was testament to his own hard working attitude.

Chasing down a sloppy back pass he charged down Collinge’s clearance and finished easily into an empty net.

With two braces in pre-season Farrell nearly sealed a memorable hat-trick as he cut inside the right hand side of the Steels’ area and curled a wonderful effort that crashed off the far post but fell to Dale who made it five for Spartans and sealed a memorable night at Croft Park.

Blyth Spartans: Grant, Utterson, Kendrick, Vipond, Buchanan, Mellish, Mason, Berj, Dale, Farrell, Airey Subs: King, Blandford, Hunter, Hodgson, Davis.

Sponsors’ man of the match: Robbie Dale (awarded by Tyne-Tec Limited and JFS).

Attendance: 351.