A LATE Craig Farrell penalty in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Rushall Olympic ensured that Paddy Atkinson picked up his first point in whilst in temporary charge of Blyth Spartans.
It also meant the visitors only took away one point from Croft Park when for most of the game they seemed set to take all three.
In truth it was a game that lacked real quality played between two sides struggling for form after recent poor runs.
Atkinson handed a debut to former Newcastle United and Gateshead striker Ryan McGorrigan and a home debut to defender Darryll Donnelly.
Robbie Dale made his comeback from injury and took his place on the left side of a midfield four, while Lee Mason was again on the bench as he continues his comeback from a hamstring injury.
Winger Damon Mullen played as an emergency left back in the absence of Joe Kendrick who is still out with a leg injury.
A first chance of the game fell to the visitors as a long ball out of defence caught out Mullen who was then overpowered by Olympic striker Hekeem Islam. He struck a low shot from the angle that forced Spartans keeper Conor Grant into a smart stop down low by his near post.
It was Islam again who forced Grant into action two minutes later with a testing effort from the edge of the box that was comfortably stopped by the former Gretna keeper.
It took 15 minutes for Atkinson’s side to get going, and it was the returning Dale who was at the heart of the action as he collected a ball in centre midfield.
His first touch was perfect and he chipped a ball over the top to find the on-rushing Farrell. He attempted a first time lob of keeper Chris Gemell but his effort went over the bar.
McGorrigan had Spartans’ next chance when he got on the end of a good ball from right back Shaun Utterson and fired from the angle into the side netting under pressure from defender Wayne Daniel.
Just before the half hour mark the visitors took the lead in controversial circumstances.
Grant produced a fantastic save to deny Danny Bragoli from the edge of the box and parried the ball away from goal. Olympic winger Jordan Fitzpatrick ran on to the loose ball as Grant dived at his feet and Mullen got a sliding clearance in to force it out wide, but unexpectedly referee Shaun Hudson awarded a spot kick and provoked ferocious protests from Spartans players, coaches and supporters alike.
Mitchell Tolley took the kick confidently and sent Grant the wrong way to put the visitors ahead.
A quiet end to the half was only brought to life by referee Hudson having to take the names of visiting players Bragoli and Islam for fouls on Dale and Utterson, but in fairness it had been a weak first half showing from Spartans and one that would have to be improved on in the second period.
Whilst Croft Park awaited a storming start to the second half, supporters had to wait until ten minutes in when Spartans had their best chance so far.
Midfielder Tom Berj charged down an attempted clearance from Gemell in the Olympic goal. Berj was forced out wide and hesitated with his effort that was eventually cleared off the line by full back Grant Beckett.
It was turning into a scrappy affair with neither side taking charge or managing to get the ball down and play it.
Spartans would have the next chance as Mullen broke out of defence impressively and found Dale out wide.
The winger cut inside from his left wing position and curled an effort goalwards that was deflected narrowly wide of the far post.
The game was disrupted by substitutions from both sides as Mason replaced Neal Hooks for Spartans and Michael Clarke replaced the hardworking Dave Walker for the visitors.
It would be Olympic who nearly doubled their lead with ten minutes left as some impressive link up play between Bragoli and Fitzpatrick saw the latter curl a ball far post.
It would find the head of Hekeem Islam and his effort went into the side netting.
As the clock ticked towards 90 minutes, Spartans would get their equaliser, but not before the visitors were reduced to ten men when their skipper Bragoli was awarded a second yellow card for a challenge on Wayne Buchanan.
From the resulting free kick a long ball into the box found the head of Dale and his knock down found Buchanan. He spun his marker and was ready to finish from the edge of the six-yard box but was pulled down by Daniel.
Farrell took the spot kick and slammed the ball low to the left for his eighth goal of the season.
Spartans nearly sneaked a win in injury time as a quick free kick caught out the Olympic defence and saw Dale turn his marker inside out and fire low at Gemell’s near post, but the keeper saved well and ensured that the sides took a point each in what was probably a fair result given Spartans’ improved second half showing.
Sponsors man of the match: Darryll Donnelly (chosen by the Cannock Spartans).
Blyth Spartans: Grant, Utterson, Mullen, Berj, Buchanan, Donnolly, Hooks (Mason 70), Dale, Vipond, Farrell, McGorrigan (Turnbull 85). Subs not used: Maguire, Hunter, Hodgson.