Two tasty chips and an error to forget condemned Blyth Spartans to their first home defeat of 2016 as Frickley Athletic took all three points from Croft Park on Tuesday night.
Robbie Dale’s two penalty strikes were enough to galvanise the home side, but the league leaders ran out of steam towards the end and could not find an equaliser.
Brad Grayson twice spotted goalkeeper Adam McHugh off his line and made him pay, and Spartans were eventually rueing some missed opportunities.
Tom Wade named an unchanged side after Saturday’s victory at Rushall Olympic as Dan Maguire once again took his place on the bench following his return from injury.
Early on, Spartans aimed to get their recent five-star goal hero Wilson Kneeshaw in behind, but despite a weak third-minute strike, the youngster had no luck in testing former Polish international stopper Sebastian Malkowski.
The first chance of note fell to the visitors, who were already looking dangerous, in the ninth minute. A ball into the box was collected by Jacob Hazel – a handful all night – who lashed his effort into the side-netting.
But Karl Rose’s team kept on the pressure and the opener came just eight minutes later. Fed in on the right with only Jordan Watson for company, Grayson saw McHugh away from his goal and delightfully lifted the ball into the left hand corner of the gaping net to put the Blues in front.
Frickley kept the pedal to the floor, and Tyler Williams struck well over just after captain Luke Hinsley had done similar.
Blyth’s best opportunities to equalise came in the shape of a Michael Richardson free kick, which he curled comfortably over, and a low Dale effort which was well blocked.
Spartans were beginning to find their feet in the game but Athletic had other ideas.
Against the run of play, a hopeful ball was played into the path of the lively Grayson. Out-pacing Ryan Hutchinson, the tricky forward incredibly lobbed McHugh again – this time with his left peg – to send shockwaves around Croft Park in the 37th minute.
Spartans came out reinvigorated in the second half and had two early chances to cut the lead to just one. First, Kneeshaw’s delightful cross evaded everyone before Sean Reid took aim and fired over from 25 yards.
The breakthrough Blyth were searching for thankfully came after 57 minutes, though, as Kneeshaw was again sent forward. His eager attempts to chase a long ball left right back Tom Davie heading towards his own keeper before the full back stretched out a hand to tip the ball away from danger.
The referee’s assistant correctly made the call that the ball was inside the penalty area, and a penalty was awarded before Davie was sent from the field of play for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
Dale duly stepped up from the spot and halved the deficit, placing the ball low to the left.
Arran Wearmouth, who had previously been introduced, was starting to make things tick for Spartans and was a constant threat.
A terrific volleyed cross from the right was not picked up by anyone though, and another Spartans attack went by before Frickley incredibly regained their two-goal advantage.
A long ball forward first should have been collected by McHugh who hesitated, leaving Hutchinson to deal with the danger. The centre half, eager to keep Blyth in possession, played it back to his keeper who miss-controlled the simple back-pass, allowing Hazel to charge the ball into the net from virtually the goal line.
It was a crazy way to seemingly hand Frickley the three points, and even more bizarrely the visitors could and should have had a fourth.
Winger Williams out-paced Watson down the left and, selfishly, chose to slide the ball towards goal rather than square it to the waiting Hazel. It dribbled wide, and a glimmer of hope remained for Spartans.
Blyth pushed on but could not grab a golden chance until the 84th minute. Kneeshaw, still full of energy, burst away from Athletic’s Sam Akeroyd who sent the forward sprawling inside the box. The winger was booked before Dale, this time choosing the right hand corner of the net, confidently grabbed his second.
All Spartans could muster in the final five minutes was a blocked attempt for substitute Maguire, however, and as the referee’s whistle sounded, Tom Wade’s men will be wondering what might have been had some costly errors been cut from the performance.
Spartans are back in action on Saturday afternoon as they take on Colwyn Bay at Croft Park.
Blyth Spartans: A McHugh, A Nicholson, J Watson, N Buddle, R Hutchinson, N Hooks, M Richardson, S Reid (D Maguire 63), W Kneeshaw, M Wade (A Wearmouth 51), R Dale. Subs not used: P Robinson, D Parker, F Otte.