BLYTH Spartans FC had to settle for a share of the spoils at the CNG Stadium after surrendering a two-nil lead against Harrogate Town on Tuesday night.
Goals from Stephen Turnbull and Alan White looked to have secured all three points for Blyth until the hosts halved the deficit in controversial fashion through Craig James, before one-time Spartans target Graeme Armstrong equalised 12 minutes from time.
Blyth were in fact holding on for a draw in the final minutes, with the woodwork denying Armstrong on two occasions and saving Mick Tait and his players from back to back defeats in the Blue Square Bet North.
Former Spartans player Wayne Phillips looked dangerous in the early exchanges and twice cut inside his marker, Dan Groves, only to fire both his efforts off target.
Harrogate goalkeeper Chris Elliot was then fortunate to avoid a booking when he raced from his area and scythed down Blyth’s Josh Gray in a wide position.
The visitors opening goal came on 16 minutes, courtesy of a stunning 30-yard strike from Turnbull which left Elliot with no chance as it arrowed away from the goalkeeper in to the far corner of the net.
Blyth grew in confidence after breaking the deadlock and a second goal looked a certainty, and it almost arrived when Harrogate’s Craig James misjudged a long ball by Chris Swailes allowing Paul Brayson to race clear only to see his effort saved by the advancing Elliot.
Apart from a brilliant one handed save to deny Armstrong just before the break, Blyth goalkeeper Dan Lowson had in the main been a spectator as his side dominated proceedings in the opening period.
After the interval, Blyth continued to look in control and deservedly doubled their advantage on 55 minutes when White scored his first goal for the club with a glancing header from a Nicky Deverdics corner.
This was Blyth’s 50th league goal of the season and it was fittingly a well worked set piece which helped them reach this landmark.
In the home side’s first attack from the restart they were awarded a free kick on the edge of the Blyth area and Lowson had to be on his toes to pull off a decent save from Harrogate’s Oliver Forsyth.
Turnbull was then fortunate not to see red after lashing out on Harrogate’s Matt Bloomer, for which the Spartans player only received a caution.
The home side’s first goal arrived on 67 minutes when James curled a free kick in to the box from the touchline which found its way over Lowson and in to the net, with the Spartans goalkeeper seemingly being impeded by substitute Chibuzor Chilaka.
Vociferous appeals from the Blyth players fell on deaf ears as the referee pointed to the centre circle.
Blyth almost responded in style as Deverdics curled a rasping shot just wide of the upright, with Elliot rooted to the spot.
On 78 minutes, indecision led to Harrogate’s leveller as Armstrong capitalised on Blyth’s inability to clear their lines when he pounced on a loose ball and hit a first time shot in to Lowson’s bottom corner.
Brayson nearly fired Blyth back in to the lead but his half volley from 14 yards hit the post after a nod down from Gray.
Armstrong then almost scored what have been a worthy winner with a spectacular acrobatic volley from the edge of the area which clipped the top of Lowson’s crossbar.
In the dying seconds the woodwork denied Armstrong again when his strike hit the post and Dan Groves made a crucial block to prevent Steve Bowey from converting the rebound.
Blyth had gone from cruise control to panic stations in a second half turned on its head by Harrogate’s contentious first goal and the final whistle was met by a sigh of relief from the travelling contingent.
Blyth travel to Staffordshire on Saturday to face Stafford Rangers before welcoming league leaders, Nuneaton Town to Croft Park the following week.
Blyth Spartans: Lowson, Groves, Cave, Gray, Swailes, White, Hooks, Turnbull, Brayson, Deverdics, Dale. Man of the match: Turnbull