A stunning volley from Carlisle United midfielder Antony Sweeney ensured that Blyth Spartans were beaten in their opening pre-season friendly on Tuesday evening.
The game was a stereotypical pre-season fixture with disjointed football played at an average pace, with numerous substitutions taking place throughout the game.
Signs of genuine quality were sporadic as both sides eased their way into their preparations for when the serious stuff kicks off next month.
But the winning goal was worth the entry fee alone as former Hartlepool United midfielder Sweeney smashed home a 20-yard strike that flew past Spartans debutant keeper Adam McHugh.
The opening stages saw limited action with Dombaxe firing over from the edge of the box for the Cumbrians in the fourth minute, while Robbie Dale led Spartans’ riposte as he danced past two challenges and brought a save out of former Croft Park favourite Mark Gillespie in the visitors goal before Danny Parker fired the rebound over from 12 yards, but they were the only chances of note.
A cagey affair was played out in the remainder of the half, with Spartans assistant manager Lee Picton’s pre-match prediction of a tactical battle proving to be correct, and to his side’s credit they matched their SkyBet League Two opponents across the park.
The half hour mark brought a penalty appeal from Tom Wade’s side, although it can be easily classified as hopeful at best.
Michael Richardson, who seemed the most likely to provide the creative spark for the home side, tried his luck from the edge of the area with a vicious right foot effort that struck the arm of United defender David Atkinson, but any penalty award from referee Paul Brown would have been harsh on the Middlesbrough academy product.
The visitors almost took the lead ten minutes before the break and would have done had it not been for the brilliance of Nick Thomson in the Spartans goal.
A classy move involving Ibehre and Hill gave Dombaxe a sight of goal from the edge of the area and his curling effort seemed destined for Thomson’s far corner. However, he was up to the challenge and produced an excellent full-length diving save to ensure the deadlock remained unbroken.
The visitors were now on top and a sublime cross from Danny Grainger found the head of Hill, who should have done better with his effort from ten yards, which landed around the same distance wide of Thomson’s far post.
The half-time whistle blew shortly after that chance and with it came the inevitable raft of substitutions.
There were just six minutes on the clock in the second half when the visitors took the lead.
The dangerous looking Danny Kearns teased and tormented one of Spartans’ four trialists down the left and got to the touchline before pulling the ball back to the edge of the area and Sweeney’s first time volley nestled inside substitute McHugh’s near post.
And it was the same player who almost doubled the lead just five minutes later. The alert defending of Damen Mullen cleared a Stephen Rigg effort off the line but the rebound fell to Sweeney but he could only find the back of the stand from ten yards out.
The play was dominated by the visitors as the half wore on but they could not find a second goal with McHugh bravely denying former Northern League player Rigg after the forward had been played in on goal by Patrick Brough.
There was to be one last chance for the home side to snatch a draw and it fell to Richardson as he raced on to a delightfully weighted through ball by Neal Hooks. He was up against an ever-widening angle as the ball skipped away from him towards the byline but he did manage to smash a shot towards the near post where United keeper Dan Hanford stayed big and parried the shot away for a corner that was easily cleared by the visitors.
As the final whistle was blown both sides could reflect on game that provided little in the way of quality but did give them a chance to work their way towards match fitness.
Spartans’ next pre-season fixture takes place on Tuesday, July 14, when Blackpool make the trip to Croft Park
Blyth Spartans: Thomson, Nicholson, Mullen, Parker, Hutchinson, Hooks, Richardson, Dale, Wearmouth, Wade, Turnbull. Subs: Bramley, A Trialist, B Trialist, C Trialist, D Trialist, Reid, McHugh.
Carlisle United: Gillespie, Miller, Raynes, Atkinson, Grainger, Thompson, Dicker, Dombaxte, Logan, Hill, Ibhere. Subs: Hanford, McQueen, Pappoe, Meppen-Walter, Brough, Osei, Sweeney, Francis, Keanrs, Asamoah, Rigg.