THE FA Trophy dream for Blyth Spartans FC came to an end at Croft Park on Saturday as local rivals Gateshead progressed through to the semi-finals with a deserved 2-0 victory.
In a first half dominated by the visitors Blyth failed to bounce back from a double blow in the space of five minutes, with Gateshead-born Chris Swailes scoring an own goal before defender James Curtis gave the hosts a mountain to climb with a second.
The home side did show signs of a revival in the second period as late pressure saw the Heed rocked but not rolled, which begged the question why Blyth did not begin the contest in the same fashion in which they ended it.
Spartans’ first half performance was uncharacteristically sluggish from the onset as Gateshead took advantage of the time and space in which they were allowed to operate.
When Robbie Dale received a booking for a strong challenge on Gateshead’s Michael Liddle within the opening minute of the game, many amongst the 2,719 present were deceived in believing this would set the tone for a heated local derby, but what actually prevailed was a rather mild mannered affair.
Blyth sorely missed the combative presence of Michael Tait, who failed a fitness test prior to kick-off but was never likely to feature after suffering a hamstring injury against Hinckley United last Saturday.
Gateshead’s playmaker Phil Turnbull was able to collect the ball from his centre halves with consummate ease and orchestrate his side’s attacking moves.
The away side had an early chance through Nathan Fisher, who dragged his shot wide before Turnbull himself tested Blyth goalkeeper Dan Lowson from 25 yards.
Phil’s twin brother, Stephen, then set up a Blyth attack with an excellent pass which found Paul Brayson who fired straight at Tim Deasy before John Alexander had an effort which was also dealt with by the Gateshead stopper.
The opening goal came on 14 minutes courtesy of the outstretched foot of Swailes, who attempted to clear a Liddle cross but instead put the ball past Lowson, in to his own net.
Blyth’s initial response was encouraging with the outstanding Neal Hooks driving forward before unleashing a fierce shot which flashed past Deasy’s post.
Alexander then had a strike from inside the area which deflected off Ben Clark, taking the sting out of the effort before the ball found its way to Deasy.
But Blyth were once again the architects of their own downfall on 19 minutes when a misunderstanding in the Spartans defence allowed an unmarked Curtis to finish from close range following a ball from his defensive partner Clark.
The hosts were then fortunate not to be further behind moments later when the impressive James Tavernier rose at the back post only to header straight at Lowson.
Blyth did regain some composure and managed to limit their opponents to fewer chances, but there were still no real signs of a comeback.
A cross from Dan Groves found Wayne Buchanan who headed straight at Deasy, and Blyth’s frustrating knack of directing their efforts down the throat of the Gateshead goalkeeper was to be a theme throughout the afternoon.
Hooks then found Dale in the area with an excellent ball but the Blyth player was well shackled by Clark who eventually cleared to safety.
Blyth emerged from the dressing room after the break and performed like they ought to have done in the opening period.
The passing was slicker and there was an urgency and belief about their play that had sadly been lacking before half-time.
Dale and Brayson combined to almost present Alexander with an excellent opportunity from close range but Clark intervened just as the striker was about to pull the trigger.
Brayson then showed great trickery in finding a way past Curtis in the area before firing a low shot which was saved by Deasy at his near post.
The noise level around Croft Park rose to a degree that it had not done all afternoon and the green and white army occupying three sides of the ground finally had reason for optimism.
A decisive moment came on 67 minutes when Dale presented Stephen Turnbull with a great chance at the back post but his effort was blocked by Liddle.
The match began to resemble a cup tie as Gateshead had chances of their own when they looked to hit Blyth on the break.
Substitute Brian Wake headed over from a Martin Brittain cross before Phil Turnbull hit a powerful effort at Lowson.
Then Gateshead’s Nathan Fisher should have really put the game out of Blyth’s reach but his volley at the back post was off target.
The last ten minutes was all Blyth’s and finally there was genuine panic in the Gateshead rearguard as the hosts laid siege on their opponents’ goal.
Brayson shook the crossbar with the rebound falling to Dale who hit his shot straight at Deasy.
Nicky Deverdics then linked up with Brayson to provide Dale with another opportunity but his overhead kick fell kindly once again for Deasy.
Pride had certainly been restored after an inept first half display, but it all proved too little too late for Spartans.
The inquest after the full-time whistle threw up many suggestions as to why Blyth had failed to perform in the way in which they had done in previous rounds.
What must not be forgotten, however, is that Blyth had done incredibly well to get to this stage of a national competition and the performances against Fleetwood Town and Droylsden in particular, will live long in the memory of the Croft Park faithful.
Blyth Spartans: Lowson, Groves, Cave, Deverdics, Swailes, Buchanan, Hooks, S Turnbull, Brayson, Alexander (O’Mahoney).
Gateshead: Deasy, Gate, Curtis, Clark, Brittain, P Turnbull, Shaw (Wake), Nelthorpe, Fisher (Winn), Liddle, Tavernier (Baxter).