ONE disheartened Blyth Spartans supporter asked the question “are we ever going to win?” as he made his way out of Croft Park on Tuesday night after seeing his side surrender a 1-0 lead against Stalybridge Celtic.
Spartans manager Tommy Cassidy must now be pondering the same question.
For despite a marked improvement in performances since his arrival during the festive period, his side have failed to pick up a solitary league win – in a sequence which stretches back to September 2011.
Tuesday’s result felt more like a defeat for the players and supporters, who are well aware that a draw means precious little when attempting to make up a 13-point deficit on fourth-bottom Hinckley United.
And even if Spartans are not playing like a side rooted to the foot of the Blue Square Bet North table, there is now a distinct possibility that they will suffer relegation for the first time in their 112-year history.
Blyth continued on from their second half showing against Altrincham on Saturday by really taking the game to Stalybridge in the opening period.
Wayne Phillips followed up a mazy run down the left by flashing the ball across the six yard box – with Shaun Utterson just inches away from getting a vital touch at the back post.
After Graeme Armstrong had been hauled down by Joel Bembo-Leta on the edge of the area, Joe Kendrick stepped up to curl his free kick over the wall, with only an impressive save from Celtic goalkeeper Jan Budtz denying him a first goal for the club.
Kendrick and Armstrong were involved again in Blyth’s next attack when the Spartans striker failed to guide his header on target after an inviting cross from the Dublin-born left back.
In the visitors’ only meaningful attack during a first half controlled by the hosts, Mitchell Austin surged towards goal, beating two defenders in the process before Spartans goalkeeper Robert Birdsall intervened to clear the danger.
At the other end, appeals for handball were waved away by the referee when Armstrong crossed into the area, with the ball bouncing up and striking Celtic’s Callum Warburton.
The hosts passed up a golden opportunity to take the lead seven minutes before the break when another expert dead-ball delivery from Kendrick found Jordon Mellish unmarked at the back post, but the young central defender missed the target with his header from five yards out.
A first time shot from Armstrong on the edge of the area then forced Budtz into showing strong hands in gathering the ball.
The breakthrough Blyth had threatened to make from the first whistle finally arrived on 41 minutes in fortuitous circumstances.
An initial shot from Utterson deflected off Celtic defender Rhys Meynell and looped over the head of Budtz, with Glen Taylor surging through for the simplest of tap-ins on the goal-line.
It could have got even better for Blyth seven minutes after the break when Neal Hooks latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the area to send a shot crashing off the Stalybridge crossbar.
No sooner were Spartans dreaming of a victory than they were contemplating yet another defeat as within a minute of rattling the woodwork they found themselves pegged back.
A routine ball forward from Stalybridge should have been dealt with by Mellish but instead he allowed Austin to nick it off his toes before rounding a stranded Birdsall to make it 1-1.
Spartans looked likely to restore their lead two minutes later as Taylor flashed an effort across goal but there was nobody on hand to turn the ball in from close range.
The visitors then had the ball in the net on 64 minutes through substitute Craig Hobson, but it was ruled offside by the linesman.
A floated free kick from Celtic’s Stephen Brogan hit the top of the crossbar and bounced out to cause momentary panic in the Spartans area before Wayne Buchanan cleared the danger.
Armstrong – who had deserved a goal for his tireless running – blazed a shot over from 25 yards.
But the striker’s best opportunity of the game arrived with two minutes of the 90 remaining when substitute Richie Slaughter delivered a deep cross which Armstrong just failed to guide into the far corner with his head.
Spartans now make the long trip to face Worcester City on Saturday.
Blyth Spartans: Birdsall, Groves, Kendrick, Anzevui (Slaughter), Buchanan, Mellish, Utterson (Mason), Hooks, Armstrong, Taylor (Little), Phillips.