Relegation mist thickens at Croft Park

Graeme Armstrong's close range header is blocked by the head of Gloucester's Tom Hamblin. Picture by Bill Broadley.
Graeme Armstrong's close range header is blocked by the head of Gloucester's Tom Hamblin. Picture by Bill Broadley.
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BLYTH Spartans’ survival hopes all but disappeared in the mist at Croft Park on Saturday as they lost a crucial Blue Square Bet North encounter with Gloucester City.

Following this 1-0 defeat Tommy Cassidy’s side now have just seven games to close the gap on Hinckley United – who sit a place above the relegation zone and a massive 13 points ahead of Spartans.

And defeat on Merseyside against fellow strugglers Vauxhall Motors on Saturday would realistically – if not mathematically – seal Blyth’s fate.

As the sea fret rolled in from the coast it was the hosts who were posing the greater goal threat in the opening exchanges on Saturday.

With less than five minutes on the clock Graeme Armstrong saw his goal bound effort deflect off Tigers’ defender Mike Green and go wide for a corner.

A dangerous cross from Wayne Phillips then almost found Shaun Utterson at the back post only for an outstanding defensive header by Jack Harris to divert the ball behind for another corner.

Joe Kendrick’s delivery picked out Armstrong in a crowded area, but the striker’s header was tipped over by Lewis Carey.

After surviving the early onslaught the visitors began to create chances of their own.

Spartans keeper David Knight was forced into making his first save of the afternoon when he tipped a Theo Lewis effort around the post.

Lewis threatened to break the deadlock again on the half hour mark when he latched onto a through ball by Darren Mullings only to fire his shot just wide.

Spartans had clearly lost the momentum which had seen them dominate proceedings earlier on in the game and five minutes after the interval they found themselves behind.

Gloucester’s goal came from the penalty spot after Wayne Buchanan was adjudged to have fouled Will Morford in the area, with Matt Lock stepping up to send Knight the wrong way from 12 yards.

The visitors could have been further ahead just a minute after taking the lead as a quick counter attack caught Blyth napping, with David Bird passing up a good opportunity to score with a weak effort which was comfortably saved by Knight.

Robert Dale had caused the Gloucester defence problems earlier on in the contest but just as his influence appeared to be fading he produced an inviting ball into the area which Buchanan glanced wide with his head.

Just after the hour mark Neal Hooks helped the ball on to Armstrong with his head only for the striker to fire straight into the arms of Carey from ten yards out with a left footed shot on the turn.

Blyth’s best chance to equalise came with just less than ten minutes remaining when a corner from Andy Ferrell found Kendrick unmarked at the back post, only for the former Republic of Ireland under-21 international to miss the target with his header.

A shot by Phillips was then spilled by Carey – who managed to gather the ball just before substitute Glen Taylor was able to pounce.

With Spartans committing men forward in what was now a 3-4-3 formation they inevitably left gaps at the back.

And Gloucester should have rounded off victory with a second goal on 90 minutes when Morford found himself with time and space ten yards from goal but was denied by a great save from Knight with his feet.

With three minutes of added on time Spartans still had a chance of getting an equaliser, and with one last throw of the dice almost did so through Armstrong, but he could not quite guide his header on target after a free kick from Kendrick.

Spartans are away to Vauxhall Motors on Saturday before welcoming Solihull Moors to Croft Park on the following Tuesday night.

Blyth Spartans: Knight, Groves, Kendrick, Hooks (Slaughter), Buchanan, Mellish (Taylor), Utterson (Mason), Ferrell, Armstrong, Dale, Phillips.

Attendance: 452.