Blyth Spartans continue to lead the way in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier after a 3-2 win at Frickley Athletic on Tuesday evening.
The night saw four red cards. Blyth’s Andrew Cartwright was first to be dismissed before the home side had two players sent off and then a third in the tunnel after the final whistle.
A stiff breeze was blowing across the pitch as Blyth kicked off with Neal Hooks replacing Stephen Turnbull in midfield, the latter having to miss the game due to an engineering exam.
Within five minutes a flowing move involving Sean Reid, Andrew Cartwright and Michael Richardson found Daniel Maguire in the opposition box and his cross shot just eluded the on-rushing Robbie Dale at the far post.
The game was liberally laced with free kicks and failed to settle into any kind of pattern.
A dangerous Tyler Williams cross was headed clear by Matthew Wade six yards from goal as the home side threatened.
Blyth responded when Dale advanced to the penalty box and tried to curl a shot into the far corner of the net, but his effort was comfortably held by Sebastian Malkowski in the Frickley goal.
However, after 12 minutes Michael Richardson sprayed the ball wide to Dale whose shot deflected off a Frickley defender to the feet of Maguire. The striker steadied himself before firing low past Malkowski to put Blyth ahead from six yards.
The Yorkshire side then could have equalised when a cross from the right sailed over the Blyth defence, found Williams who headed it back in to the danger area to Brad Grayson who wastefully volleyed over.
Blyth hit back when Richardson came close to scoring, heading over a Dale free kick from eight yards.
Luke Hinsley drove wide of the Blyth goal from 20 yards before Spartans won a penalty on 27 minutes. A surging run took Maguire into the box and a despairing Louis Bruce barged him to the ground. Dale converted the penalty with confidence to give Blyth a two-goal lead.
Spartans keeper Fabian Otte was called into action for the first substantive time after 35 minutes when a high cross fell to Tom Davie and shot-stopper was quickly on hand to block the midfielder’s shot.
Richardson then tried a cheeky chip shot from distance which caused Malkowski to scamper backwards and just manage to palm the ball over the bar and to safety.
With five minutes of the first half remaining Cartwright was dismissed. He had received a yellow card after six minutes and this time received a second for what appeared to be delaying the restart of play.
On the cusp of the break Frickley pulled a goal back when Grayson spotted Otte off his line and dispatched a 35-yard lob over his head and into the top corner of the net.
In added time a fierce Dale free kick was parried away by a relieved Malkowski.
After the break Blyth boss Tom Wade brought on right back Alex Nicholson to fill the position in the absence of the dismissed Cartwright, with Neal Hooks being withdrawn in the process.
The home side were trying to make the running and it took a timely tackle by Blyth centre back Ryan Hutchinson to prevent Jacob Hazel getting the opportunity to shoot.
Both sides were down to ten men after 62 minutes when home captain Jameel Ible was involved in an off-the-ball incident with Maguire.
Frickley equalised after 65 minutes when Tyler Williams found himself with space to fire past Otte’s right hand and into the bottom corner.
Within seconds of the restart Maguire forced Malkowski in to a superb reaction save to deny the Blyth striker.
Play switched to the other end as Davie hit the Blyth post.
On 73 minutes Blyth regained the lead when a centrally placed Wade found Richardson on Blyth’s right. The former Newcastle player didn’t hesitate and fired in a wicked cross which was met by the head of Reid, stooping to score at the near post.
Blyth came close to extending their lead as firstly Maguire’s surging run was brought to a halt when he was fouled on the edge of the penalty box then Dale accelerated past Davie and Malkowski fell to smother his shot.
The home side had a second player sent off in added time when Luke Hinsley received his second yellow card, this time for a foul on substitute Aaron Wearmouth.
In what must have threatened to become a case of repetitive stress syndrome in his right arm the referee showed a grand total of 13 cards.
And just because the game had ended, the game of cards hadn’t. Unused Frickley substitute Jon Hood was shown a red card in the tunnel as he headed for the dressing room.
At the end of the day, though, the card count scenario was trumped by Blyth’s gritty performance which secured a valuable three points and extended their lead at the top of the table.
Blyth: F Otte, A Cartwright, J Watson, D Parker, R Hutchinson, N Hooks (A Nicholson 45), M Richardson, S Reid (A Davis 90+3), D Maguire (A Wearmouth 82), M Wade, R Dale. Subs not used: P Robinson, D Morse.