Late goals from Ross Caldwell and Mark Williams robbed Blyth Spartans of a deserved draw against Scottish Premiership side St Mirren on Saturday.
On top for long spells against the Paisley outfit, the Green Army recovered from two goals down to level with 20 minutes remaining, and looked the likelier of the two sides to nab a late winner – only to lose their composure at the death.
Setting the tone for an entertaining afternoon, Spartans almost found the net within 60 seconds of kick-off, Dan Maguire forcing Marian Kello into a low save after collecting Jarrett Rivers’ threaded ball.
The home side looked to press Tommy Craig’s men early on, but were caught out after only four minutes.
Former Spartan James Marwood evaded the offside trap, and, at the second time of asking, picked out the sole trialist in the visitors’ line-up six yards out, the forward duly prodding home from an unmarked position.
After getting their noses in front, the Buddies enjoyed their brightest period of the game.
Although they were far from convincing in possession, they managed to eke out a series of decent openings, their direct approach asking questions of the Spartans rearguard.
On 13 minutes, Marwood latched onto a long ball out of defence, finding a gap in the hosts’ backline, however, he could only drill his first-time effort wide of the post from 18 yards out.
Moments later, the visitors’ goalscorer connected with Gregg Wylde’s cross from the left flank with an outstretched leg, bringing the best out of Spartans’ trialist goalkeeper.
A smart turn and shot from Marwood on the edge of the area also tested the stopper, as the 2013 Scottish League Cup winners threatened to extend their lead.
However, Spartans grew as an attacking force as the half wore on and created a flurry of chances shortly after the half hour mark.
First, the lively Maguire took aim from 20 yards with a bending effort only to see the ball curl wide of Kello’s left-hand post.
On 33 minutes, Neal Hooks sent Rivers in on goal with a perfectly-weighted through ball. The winger’s first-touch was immaculate, but he hesitated, and allowed a visiting defender the opportunity to get back and block his effort.
Spartans were to have another bite of the cherry, though, as Nathan Buddle planted a header against the crossbar from the resultant corner.
The home side were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty on 36 minutes as Maguire was seemingly upended by Kello on the edge of the six-yard box.
Undeterred, the frontman sent a rasping drive narrowly over the crossbar just seconds later.
For all of their possession in the final third, Spartans lacked a clinical edge in front of goal.
And, on 42 minutes they were made to pay as Marwood collected another long ball out of defence, raced in on goal, and coolly found the bottom corner of the net with a confident finish.
The 2-0 scoreline undoubtedly flattered St Mirren, but Spartans halved the deficit just four minutes after the interval.
After exploiting a gap in the visitors midfield, Hooks advanced and threaded the ball through for Rivers. The winger’s effort was parried by Kello but dropped perfectly for Hooks, who was left with the simple task of tapping in from six yards.
Making his debut for Spartans was goalkeeper Peter Jeffries, who had taken to the pitch as a half-time substitute.
The former Spennymoor Town man was to have a largely quiet afternoon, but should have been beaten on 51 minutes as Marwood somehow bundled Wylde’s in-swinging cross over the crossbar from a couple of yards out with the goal gaping.
But Spartans soon began to dominate once more.
On 58 minutes, a flowing move saw Rivers send a Spartans trialist down the right flank, who in turn cut back for Paul Robinson on the edge of the area. The former Whitley Bay man’s first-time effort was sweetly-struck but cleared the crossbar.
Robinson was looking more threatening with each passing minute.
A piledriver on 62 minutes stung the palms of Kello, who was grateful to collect at the second attempt.
The midfielder took aim from range again just seconds later, but the Buddies’ Slovakian stopper was equal to it once more.
But Robinson did not have to wait much longer to get his name on the scoresheet, as he calmly slotted home a 70th-minute penalty following Kello’s trip on Maguire in the midst of a melee inside the visitors 18-yard box.
Spartans had their tails up and were looking dangerous every time they attacked.
Maguire threatened twice more as they went in search of a winner – first blazing over on 75 minutes before a last-ditch block from visiting defender Jason Naismith denied the striker a deserved goal shortly later.
The least Spartans’ performance merited from the game was a draw, but they were cruelly denied even that in the closing stages.
On 86 minutes, Ben Sayer’s back pass was far too short for Jeffries, forcing the goalkeeper to rush out of his area. He looked to hoof the ball clear only for St Mirren substitute Ross Caldwell to bravely cut out the clearance and slide the ball into an empty net.
In stoppage time, the visitors restored their two-goal margin, with Mark Williams side-footing home substitute Gary Teale’s cross after the Buddies had cleverly worked a short-corner routine.
For the third time in as many weeks, Tom Wade’s men had lost out to Scottish opposition when their efforts had undoubtedly merited more.
But, as with any pre-season campaign, performances are perhaps more important than results, and the Spartans gaffer has plenty to be positive about with the start of the regular season now less than three weeks away.
Blyth Spartans: Trialist (Jeffries 46), Trialist, Parker, Buddle, Watson, Rivers (Moore, 63), Hooks (Mullen, 81), Sayer, Wearmouth, Robinson, Maguire.
St Mirren: Kello, Williams, Naismith, McAusland, Plummer, Wylde, Hughes, McGinn, Brown (Caldwell, 57), Marwood (Teale, 57), Trialist (Reilly, 57).