Three vital points for Blyth Spartans in play-off race

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Blyth Spartans emerged victorious from a battling win over title chasing thoroughbreds Skelmersdale United on Saturday and they showed that they are far from a one trick pony.

The three points kept their play-off hopes alive as the season enters the final furlong.

There was one change from the previous week’s equally impressive win at King’s Lynn with Lewis Horner missing out with a foot injury.

In his place was the ‘Skem Slayer’, Craig Hubbard.

The former West Auckland midfielder memorably notched two hat-tricks on consecutive Saturdays back in October against the Lancashire outfit.

A lightning quick start saw Spartans come within a whisker of taking the lead within the first minute as Matthew Wade just failed to make contact with a wicked Robbie Dale free kick from the left.

Any contact from Wade would have seen him notch his sixth goal of his debut season at Croft Park.

The main stories of the opening quarter of an hour revolved about penalty shouts as both sides saw referee Paul Dicicco turn down vociferous appeals.

Dan Maguire was upended by Rob McIntosh on five minutes whilst just a minute later Skem front man Astbury went down under a Dan Parker challenge, both appeals were rejected.

Midway through the half Hubbard had the chance to extend his impressive record against United but his low drive from a Maguire pull back was easily dealt with by Hibbert in the visitors goal.

On 33 minutes, though, Spartans were not to be denied.

A Maguire corner from the left caught in the wind and whilst the visitors defence hesitated Dale did not and the skipper rolled home his 11th goal of the season by spinning on a sixpence and easing the ball into the bottom corner.

With Croft Park ready to salute Spartans’ half-time lead, Skem got back on level terms with a goal that owed much to the brute strength of Dean Astbury.

The former Marine man burst into the left side of the Spartans area, shrugging of a challenge from Damen Mullen in the process, before calmly rolling the ball back to the edge of the six-yard box for Mark Jackson to smash home.

Within five minutes of the second half getting under way, Spartans were back in the lead.

A speculative effort from Arran Wearmouth caught the wind and hit the crossbar, and as the ball bounced into the six-yard box, Maguire was first on the scene. His first effort was saved by Hibbert but again the loose ball fell to the striker and he forced the ball over the line for his 22 goal of a season.

And it was almost goal 23 on the hour as an incisive pass from Hubbard released Maguire in on goal but his shot was well saved by the advancing Hibbert.

That was the signal for Skem manager Tommy Lawson to go for broke with a triple substitution.

With the clock ticking on to the 90-minute mark, Spartans’ battling spirit came to the fore.

Astbury looked set to crash home from 12 yards after a loose ball broke to him in the area but he was denied by a brave block from the impressive Wade that saw the ball loop over the bar.

From the resulting corner kick Damen Mullen cleared a Hardwick header off the line, but Skem would not go away.

The final chance of the game saw Conor Grant continue his impressive recent form as he produced a brave double stop at the feet of McIntosh and that was enough to see Spartans over the winning line and seal three impressive and well earned points.

The win makes it only one defeat in ten games since the turn of the year for Spartans.

Spartans’ man of the match was Nathan Buddle

Blyth Spartans: Grant, Mullen, Watson, Parker, Buddle, Hooks, Hubbard, Wade, Dale, Maguire, Wearmouth (Robinson 76) Subs not used: Purewal, Cummings, Kendrick, Horner.

Attendance: 329.