Spartans frustrated by officials in stalemate at Rushall

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A game that was low on chances but high on controversy saw Blyth Spartans come away from Rushall Olympic with a point.

But due to results elsewhere their chances of a play-off spot remain slim.

There were three changes from the previous Saturday’s win at Ilkeston and all were due to injuries.

Paul Robinson, Ryan Cummings and Ash Davis came in for Damen Mullen, Lewis Horner and Arran Wearmouth, although the latter was named on the bench.

The first chance came in the very first minute as Davis found some space on the edge of the Pics area but could only volley straight at Chris Gemmell.

It was to be the first of few chances in a poor first half.

Ahmed Obeng had the hosts’ first chance on 13 minutes as he was released in on goal by a long ball and managed to get a shot past Conor Grant, but the connection was weak and allowed Cummings to clear comfortably.

In the warm Staffordshire sunshine, temperatures began to rise on the pitch although referee Neal Pratt was the reason why both sets of coaching staff managed to reach boiling point.

Ten minutes before the break a long punt into the Spartans area saw Conor Grant come out to claim the ball. The in-form keeper took the ball cleanly but was barged to the ground by Karl Ashton and the loose ball was pounced upon and crossed back to the penalty spot but Pics defender Jack Duggan could only head wide of an unguarded net.

If manager Tom Wade and assistant Colin Myers were apoplectic with rage at that lack of decision, then describing their sense of injustice five minutes later would take even more explaining.

As Robbie Dale cleared another long ball into the Spartans area, play moved into the opposition half, and with the ball long gone full back Jimmy Turner kicked out at Dale within sight of the assistant referee. His flag went up as he called the referee Pratt over, and after a long discussion, and much to the chagrin of the Spartans bench, only a yellow card was shown.

The final chance of the half came right on the interval as Dale tested Gemmell from 20 yards.

Within five minutes of the restart Spartans should have been ahead.

Some impressive work down the right from Dale saw him swing a cross to the far post that was met on the volley by Dan Maguire but he could only send his first time effort over the bar from ten yards out.

Spartans were looking bright but the next chance fell to the home side on the hour mark.

A vicious volley from winger Dance took a deflection but Grant spectacularly tipped over.

That was quickly followed by a poor miss from Christian Dacres as the midfielder headed over a Turner cross despite being unmarked in the Spartans area.

With ten minutes left Dale came within a whisker of giving his side the lead.

He ran at Turner on the left side of the area and turned the full back inside out before checking inside on his right foot. A low effort at the near post saw Gemmell get a foot to the ball to flick it on to the post and straight back into his hands.

As if to put the final stamp of controversy on the game, referee Pratt was thrown back into the limelight, although he can this time point to a questionable decision making from his assistant on the dugout side.

A through ball released Maguire in on goal and as he took a touch into the area he was hauled down by former Witton Albion full back Matty Wood. The flag went up but only a free kick was awarded with the foul appearing a good two yards inside the area.

Wood escaped with a yellow card with the noise levels of the impressive Green Army reaching new highs through their anger.

From the resulting free kick Dale floated a ball to the back post that was met by man of the match Nathan Buddle. He headed back across goal where Davis got a slight touch to send the ball past Gemmell, although to increase the annoyance levels Wood managed to clear off the line to secure a point for the home side in a game both sides may feel they could and should have won.

For Spartans the uphill battle to reach the play-offs seems to have spouted another peak, but there are positives for Wade and his men.

Inside seven days they have visited two away grounds where they suffered embarrassing defeats last season and comfortably taken four points.

The clean sheet for Grant means it is now 270 minutes since he conceded on the road in the league, and Spartans remain unbeaten on the road since the Boxing Day defeat to Whitby Town.

The draw also made it one defeat in 14 in all competitions.

Blyth Spartans: Grant, Cummings, Watson, Buddle, Parker, Wade, Robinson, Davis, Maguire, Hooks, Dale. Subs not used: Kendrick, Purewal, Bonket, Wearmouth.

Attendance: 168.