BLYTH Spartans were given a lesson in finishing at Croft Park on Saturday as Witton Albion took all three points and inflicted their third defeat of the season on Paddy Atkinson’s side.
Three clinical finishes from Steve Foster, Daniel Andrews and Shaun Tuck ensured that the Cheshire side carried on their promotion challenge and left Spartans facing a tricky festive period as they look to get themselves into the top half of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League.
New signing Andrew Jennings started for Spartans after completing a move from Billingham Synthornia on Friday and was partnered up front by Dan Maguire in the absence of Phil Airey, who had a virus, and the suspended Ryan McGorrigan.
Neal Hooks was still out injured and loan signing Marcus Maddison was made unavailable for the game by his parent club Newcastle United.
Goalkeeper Craig Pickering took his place on the bench for the first time since signing from Bedlington Terriers three weeks ago.
Spartans started off the better side and had two chances in the first eight minutes with new signing Jennings at the heart of both openings.
Maguire latched on to a Jennings flick on in the sixth minute but after beating Paul Booth in the box, but he could only drag his effort wide of the near post.
Two minutes later Jennings came within a whisker of a debut goal as he got on the end of a Robbie Dale cross from the left only to see his header drift wide of Cooper’s far post.
For all of their early pressure, Spartans could and probably should have went behind on ten minutes when a Gardner cross found winger Joshua Hancock who headed onto the bar from eight yards out.
Spartans were so nearly guilty of shooting themselves in the foot two minutes later as Joe Kendrick and Richie Slaughter left a long ball to each other but only succeeded in allowing Albion winger Andrews in one on one with Grant. Fortunately for Spartans Andrews panicked and lashed an effort over the bar from ten yards out.
The chances kept coming and it would be Spartans who had the next one as Jennings again went close to a debut goal.
He latched onto a hooked Slaughter clearance and from fully 40 yards smashed a volley goalwards.
Albion keeper Cooper was in no man’s land on the edge of his box and could only watch the ball sail over him and bounce on the edge of the six-yard box before only just clearing the bar.
As the first period carried on the recent heavy weather had an impact on the pitch and this in turn meant that the game turned scrappy with both sides struggling to get the ball down and play.
However, on the stroke of half-time the visitors nearly took the lead with a free kick from Hancock.
The winger curled an effort from 20 yards just past Conor Grant’s near post with the Spartans number one seemingly beaten. That miss ensured the teams went into the interval with the deadlock still to be broken.
Again it would be Spartans who started the second period on top as Dale broke away from midfield.
He released Maguire in the inside left channel and the former Seaton Delaval front man struck a low effort that deflected off Albion defender Wood that forced Cooper into an instinctive stop to keep his side on level terms.
Not that they would be on level terms for long as Albion went straight up the other end of the pitch and showed Spartans how it is done in front of goal.
Albion captain Sheehan evaded the challenge of Tom Berj and broke away down the right hand side of the Spartans area. He was given too much time to pick out the on rushing Steven Foster and the striker curled a hard low shot past Grant to put his side ahead.
As Spartans attempted to put the visitors under pressure in order to get back on level terms they were hit on the break again as they failed to clear a Hancock cross.
The loose ball ran to Daniel Andrews and he crashed a 20-yard thunderbolt into Grant’s top right hand corner to double Albion’s lead.
Grant did manage to prevent the visitors adding a third minutes later when he blocked a shot from Albion right back Gardner as he latched on to a clever through ball from the impressive Hancock.
Spartans would have two golden chances to get back into the game as Maguire looped a header from a Shaun Vipond cross just past the far post and Slaughter clipped the outside of the post with a low shot.
But the last word went to the visitors as substitute Shaun Tuck latched on to a long ball and turned Wayne Buchanan inside out before firing across Grant and into the far corner to seal all three points for his side.
So Spartans head into the festive period with an away trip to Hednesford Town before welcoming Whitby Town to Croft Park.
Management team Paddy Atkinson and Tom Wade will be hoping to add to their squad before the trip to the Midlands where they will also welcome back Airey, McGorrigan and Hooks.
Blyth Spartans: Grant, Utterson, Slaughter, Berj (Stanger 75 mins), Buchanan, Kendrick, Mason (Mullen 82 mins), Vipond, Jennings, Maguire, Dale Subs not used:Hodgson, Pickering, Donnelly.