A LATE penalty consigned Spartans to an opening day defeat at Witton Albion on a day when the club should have been celebrating the acheivements of Robbie Dale scoring his 100th goal for the club.
Manager Tommy Cassidy handed competitive Spartans debuts to Conor Grant, Tom Berj, Craig Farrell and Phil Airey as Spartans began their attempt to bounce back from last season’s relegation.
An quiet opening period saw both sides creating nothing and it gave no indication of what was to come.
It took ten minutes for the game to spring into life when the home side took the lead.
Striker Shaun Tuck collected a pass on the right wing and ran at Spartans defender Wayne Buchanan. Tuck cut inside and lashed the ball passed Grant to put the recently promoted Albion into the lead.
Spartans hit back and got back on level terms on 14 minutes with a superbly worked goal.
Collecting the ball in the middle of midfield, Dale beat two men and played a one-two with Farrell, and although Dale was driven wide by Cooper in the host’s goal, he managed to loop an effort over the keeper and a defender on the line and reach his century of goals for Spartans.
Five minutes later Spartans could have taken the lead but debutant Airey was denied by the offside flag.
Some pressing by Berj in midfield forced an error from Albion centre back Booth and the ball fell to former Newcastle United striker Airey who calmly rolled the ball past the keeper only for the assistant to decide the last touch before the ball fell to Airey was from Berj and the goal was chalked off.
On the half hour the home side had a chance when midfielder Connors had an effort from 25 yards out that was narrowly deflected wide of Grant’s goal.
Spartans were forced into a late first half sub when Lee Mason came off and was replaced by Paul King, another debutant.
On the stroke of half-time Albion nearly took the lead when a snap shot from Hancock clipped the bar.
The second half got off to a slow start as both teams suffered in boiling hot temperatures.
It took until the hour mark for the first chance when Hancock again hit the woodwork.
He drove past Buchanan and struck a shot across goal but the shot crashed off the inside of the post and rolled across goal before being cleared.
Another Spartans sub meant another debut as Scott Blandford came on for Airey on 67 minutes.
With ten minutes left Spartans had their best chance of the second half and again it was Dale who was at the heart of the action.
Some good build up play involving Berj, Utterson and King led to Dale striking a superb half volley from the edge of the box, but Albion keeper Cooper saved well and ensured the ball was pushed out wide before being cleared.
With the clock running down the home side got stronger and looked to be on top.
Centre Half Harrison went close with two minutes left on the clock as he headed an Andrews cross narrowly wide of Grant’s near post.
Andrews was influencial as full-time drew closer and tested Grant with a 20-yard free kick that the Spartans keeper was equal to.
However, in the last of three minutes injury time the home side got a winner.
It was dangerman Andrews who caused trouble and he charged into the box and was brought down by Sam Hodgson, although the Spartans midfielder did appear to pull away from making a challenge.
Albion full back Gardner made no mistake from the spot, blasting the ball down the middle to give his side the three points and ensure Spartans would be looking to their opening home fixture on Stocksbridge Park Steels, which was due to be played on Tuesday night for their first points.
Spartans man of the match was Wayne Buchanan
Blyth Spartans: Grant, Utterson, Kendrick, Hodgson, Buchanan, Jones, Mason, Berj, Farrell, Airey, Dale. Subs: Vipond, Mellish, Blandford, King, Hunter.