Spartans edged out by FC United Manchester

United's Dean Stott (6) shoots past Conor Grant to level the score. Picture by Bill Broadley.
United's Dean Stott (6) shoots past Conor Grant to level the score. Picture by Bill Broadley.
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FC United of Manchester became the first side since Chorley in mid-September to take maximum points from Croft Park with a 2-1 win on Saturday.

In what was one of the most enthralling games seen at Croft Park this season, a goal by United striker Mike Norton early in the second half gave his side the win, although Spartans will feel they did enough to gain at least a point.

Manager Paddy Atkinson was without suspended striker Ryan McGorrigan and midfielders Neal Hooks, injured, and Jack Stanger, who was having international trials.

Richie Slaughter and full debutant Dan Maguire came into the starting line-up.

In a frantic opening, Spartans were quickly on top and within two minutes had the first chance when Robbie Dale swung over an inviting cross that Lee Mason just failed to connect with under heavy pressure from Rebels left back Neville.

However, on six minutes they took the lead as Slaughter won the ball in midfield and floated an inch perfect cross in behind the visitors defence to release Phil Airey in on goal, and the front man made no mistake with a cool finish, rolling the ball past Spencer and into the net.

But it was a lead Spartans could not hold on to as vulnerability from set pieces hurt them again.

A Platt corner into the danger zone caused havoc and despite several missed attempts to clear, the ball fell to centre back Dean Stott who crashed home from ten yards out.

The visitors at this point were well on top and playing some good football, but their momentum would be halted when winger Platt was taken off after a sickening clash with Slaughter.

The FC United man would be taken to hospital for treatment on a facial injury.

Just after the half hour mark Spartans began to find their feet again and a break from Airey saw the former Newcastle United forward run 60 yards from the edge of his own area and release Joe Kendrick on the right side of the Rebels box. Kendrick struck a first time effort that was saved low down by Spencer.

As the half quietened down and seemed to be heading for a gentle end, three chances came within two minutes.

Firstly Rebels midfielder Mathew Tierney smashed a goalbound effort off Kendrick that forced Conor Grant into an excellent save low down to his left.

Spartans then broke away and pressure from the impressive debutant Maguire saw him steal the ball from Jacobs and roll it into the path of Dale. The Spartans winger struck a first time effort that smashed the inside of the post and rebounded to safety.

Then it would be Maguire again at the heart of Spartans’ dangerous play as he played in Airey. He cut in on his left foot and forced a solid save from Spencer.

Jordan Mellish made his comeback from injury as Atkinson replaced Darryll Donnelly with the former Hartlepool United man at the break.

Spartans again started the better in the second half and should have taken the lead as a superb cross from Airey was met bet Maguire with a diving header that just went past the post.

A minute later and it was Airey who had a chance when a Kendrick free kick found him on the edge of the box but his effort went just over.

Spartans would be punished for their wayward finishing as Rebels substitute Cedric Krou broke away on the right wing and played an inch perfect cross that found Mike Norton six yards out and he made no mistake.

It has to be said Norton deserved his goal and put in a superb performance for the visitors and was easily the best player on the park.

As the pitch got heavier and the temperature dipped, both sides kept at it and a real battle ensued.

With 20 minutes left the visitors should have extended their lead when a Tierney shot deflected off Wayne Buchanan and seemed to leave Krou with a simple finish but he only found the side netting.

Spartans had what looked like a strong penalty shout when Neville seemed to upend Dale in the box but the referee was unmoved.

The last ten minutes were played with plenty of effort and endeavour from Spartans but they could not force the equaliser that their battling performance had maybe deserved.

But there were undoubtedly some promising signs for Atkinson, his assistant Tom Wade and the Spartans faithful

The impressive debut of Maguire, the return of Mellish and the performance of winger Mason were all positives for Spartans.

The club thanked the visiting players, coaching, officials and supporters for playing their part in what was a true advert for non league football, it was a day of real entertainment on and off the pitch at Croft Park.

Spartans’ man of the match: Lee Mason.

Attendance: 617.

Blyth Spartans: Grant, Utterson, Kendrick, Slaughter, Vipond, Buchanan, Donnelly (Mellish 45), Mason, Maguire, Airey, Dale (Turnbull 75). Subs not used: Mullen, Berj.