Spartans show signs of improvement despite defeat to Blackpool

Action from Blyth Spartans' pre-season friendly with Blackpool.
Action from Blyth Spartans' pre-season friendly with Blackpool.

Blyth Spartans showed signs of improvement despite a second home defeat in two pre-season fixtures as Blackpool secured a 2-0 win.

On Jarrett Rivers’ first return to Croft Park since joining the Tangerines in June, his new side overcame his former employers with a goal in each half.

Goals from Connor Oliver and Callum Ball gave Neil McDonald’s side the win, but Spartans more than matched their SkyBet League One opponents.

Indeed it was Spartans who dominated the opening stages and could have taken the lead on ten minutes as some fine work from Alex Nicholson allowed the Newcastle United academy product to cut in from his right wing position before finding Robbie Dale on the left hand side, but his curling effort brought the best out of keeper Kyle Letheren.

Spartans came again and on 19 minutes midfielder Michael Richardson flashed a 25-yard volley past the right hand upright as Croft Park, or the vast majority inside, sensed an opener was close.

And their presumptions were to be accurate. But for all of their dominance it was the visitors who took the lead moments.

The goal came from north east born Oliver, but it stemmed from hesitancy in the Spartans back four as a failure to clear the ball from deep inside their own area presented Oliver with a chance he did not waste.

The striker pounced on a loose ball and toe poked home from a narrow angle to give his side an undeserved lead.

Buoyed by their opener the visitors came again and should have had a second on the half hour mark, although there would have been more than a fair share of controversy had they taken the chance.

The lively Bright Samuel timed his run in behind the Spartans back four but seemed to use his right hand to help the ball into his path. With a clear sight of goal the winner lost his cool and smashed his effort well over Adam McHugh’s crossbar.

Spartans hit back and with Stephen Turnbull dictating the play in midfield, they wrestled the initiative back and seemed likely to grab an equaliser.

Alex Nicholson went close with a speculative effort from all of 25 yards but saw his drive rise over the crossbar.

A final chance of the half fell to the visitors as a free kick was awarded 20 yards from goal. Scorer Oliver chose to take it but could only smash the ball well over the bar.

Half-time brought another reminder of Spartans’ epic FA Cup run with former Birmingham City goalkeeper Colin Doyle taking his place in the visitors goal, the same goal Dale struck twice past him in the epic third round tie at Croft Park in January.

There was almost another reminder of the cup run with the first chance of the second half. A free kick, just over 20 yards from goal was awarded, in an almost identical position to Stephen Turnbull’s equaliser in the second round win at Hartlepool United.

However, instead of nestling in the top corner, this time the midfielder could only curl a shot over the bar.

Nick Thomson had replaced McHugh between the sticks for Spartans and manager Tom Wade was thankful to the Boston University student ten minutes into the half as he produced a stunning double save to deny John Herron from point blank range and then Cullen on the follow up.

Just before the hour mark Croft Park hailed their former hero Rivers as McDonald chose to substitute his captain for the night and allowed him to take the acclaim of the Green Army.

His replacement, Henry Cameron, almost made an immediate impact as he crossed to find Cullen, but the striker chipped over the crossbar with his second attempt after Thomson bravely blocked his first chance.

Twelve minutes from time the game was sealed as substitute Callum Ball scored from inside the six-yard box after Samuel’s cross from the left had hit Damen Mullen on the back.

That deflection took Thomson out of the game and allowed Ball to apply the finish from virtually on the line, before taking the appreciation of the travelling Blackpool fans, who for all their recent publicity remained in the stand and were warmly welcomed visitors to Croft Park.

A final chance came and went for Spartans to grab, what would have been a consolation. Paul Robinson almost came close to marking his return to Croft Park with a 20-yard drive, but it sailed past Doyle’s left hand upright and with that came with the final whistle.

Both clubs got what they wanted from the friendly with the visitors tested by Spartans and Wade getting some valuable minutes into his players.

Questions remain and with a second friendly without a goal the need for another striker to support Sean Reid is evident.

It is something that Wade confirmed post-match is being worked on with urgency.

Next up is a Northern League double header for Spartans as they head to Ashington on Friday night, before travelling to Newcastle Benfield on Tuesday evening.

Blyth Spartans: McHugh, Trialist, Watson, Parker, Hutchinson, Turnbull, Wade, Dale, Reid, Richardson, Nicholson Subs: Bramley, A Trialist, B Trialist, C Trialist, Robinson, Mullen, Hooks, Bell, Thomson.

Blackpool: Letheren, McNaughton, Jones, Robertson, Ferguson, Potts, Oliver, Rivers, Samuel, Redshaw, CullenSubs: Doyle, Aldred, Dunne, Higham, Herron, Cameron, Ball.

Attendance: 791.