Substitute Michael Richardson’s second half goal ensured Blyth Spartans stretched their unbeaten run to seven games with a hard-fought win at Rushall Olympic.
The former Newcastle United midfielder headed home Robbie Dale’s cross from the left to hand Tom Wade’s side their third win in a week as they look to continue what seemed like an unlikely play-off push.
Spartans took the lead in the third minute as Dale broke into the area and tempted Mitchell Tolley into the tackle, which resulted in the referee awarding a spot kick. Dale picked himself up and sent Lewis Solly the wrong way.
That start almost became even better than perfect in the eighth minute as Jarrett Rivers tormented Callum Williams down the right before smashing the ball across the face of the goal, but although in-form striker Dan Maguire got the slightest of touches it was not enough to force it over the line.
Debutant keeper Nick Thomson was called into action for the first time midway through the half after the Pics were awarded a free kick 25 yards from goal. Jake Heath curled it over the Spartans wall but Thomson saved well and held onto the ball with several Rushall players closing him down.
The hosts came within a whisker of an equaliser on 24 minutes when Chris Lait burst through three challenges, albeit with a hint of handball. The Pics winger had time to settle himself but smashed his effort past the advancing Thomson and against the crossbar.
The hosts were looking dangerous and almost equalised just after the half hour mark. A long ball forward was misjudged by Ryan Hutchinson and Aaron Williams tried an audacious lob over Thomson from 30 yards but sent it just over the crossbar with the Spartans keeper scrambling back to his line.
Rushall continued to monopolise the chances in the closing stages of the half as Lait continued to torment down the left hand side. He cut in from the wing and sent over an inch-perfect ball to the far post but Williams could only flick it across goal and harmlessly out for a goal kick.
The home side got back on level terms within a minute of the second half, although they did so in what Spartans would claim was controversial circumstances.
A cross from the right from Williams found Kris Taylor at the far post and the midfielder headed home, although Spartans were left appealing in vain as they felt Damen Mullen had cleared the ball before it crossed the line.
Spartans should have taken the lead two minutes later as the two Dans, Hawkins and Maguire, linked up with the former sending the latter in on goal, but the striker was denied his fifth in three games by the alert goalkeeping of Solly as the Pics number one rushed from his line to block Maguire’s low drive.
The hosts were dominating possession, leaving Spartans to feed on scraps with Tom Wade’s side only creating half chances.
Substitute Michael Richardson almost made an instant impact but curled a right foot effort just over the bar from 20 yards.
Spartans took the lead against the run of play with 20 minutes left on the clock, and it was a chance created by the magic of Dale.
He danced into the left hand side of the area and dinked a perfect cross to the far post to allow Richardson to score his third goal in a Spartans shirt with a simple header from four yards out.
With 15 minutes left Stephen Turnbull almost replicated his FA Cup heroics at Hartlepool United. The midfielder was handed the chance to score from a free kick after a foul on Richardson and curled a vicious effort onto the Pics’ crossbar and it was scrambled to safety.
Dale was again at the heart of the action with eight minutes remaining as he again tormented his marker. He found some space down the left before cutting in on his right and lashing a low effort at the far post only to be denied by a goal line clearance by Pics substitute Steve Leslie.
The woodwork was struck again by Spartans minutes later as Rivers was the stronger in a challenge with Mitchell Tolley and managed to get a low shot away from ten yards but it smacked against the far post before falling kindly into the hands of Solly.
With a minute left on the clock, debutant Thomson came to Spartans’ rescue with a brave save to deny Lait. A long ball over the top sent the winger through on goal but Thomson was alert and rushed from his line to block Lait’s effort and the ball was scrambled to safety.
That vital stop from Thomson ensured that Spartans got the win they deserved and whilst the hosts will look to missed chances, Spartans had plenty of their own after striking the woodwork twice and having one effort cleared off the line.
At the end of the game, Wade led his players to thank the travelling away support after the Green Army had given them 90 minutes of excellent backing that matched the effort on the park.
Spartans: Thomson, Nicholson, Mullen, Parker, Hutchinson, Hawkins (Richardson 54), Stephen Turnbull, Wade (Hooks 80), Rivers, Maguire, Dale. Subs not used: Wearmouth, Lynch, Bell.