Hubbard hat-trick not enough for Blyth Spartans

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Blyth Spartans were on the wrong end of a seven- goal thriller on their maiden visit to Skelmersdale United on Saturday.

Despite a hat-trick for midfielder Craig Hubbard, it was a Ken Strickland goal ten minutes from time for United that ensured Tom Wade’s side fell to only their second away defeat of the season.

As if to set the tone for the first half there was a flurry of chances and indeed goals in the opening ten minutes.

The first chance fell to Spartans as Dan Maguire got on the end of a wonderful diagonal pass from Neal Hooks but could not find his way past the hosts keeper Zac Hibbert, and it would not be the last time either.

After just five minutes the home side punished that miss in the best possible way by taking the lead.

An incisive break down the right from Matty Hughes saw the winger pick out Adam Morning who made no mistake just inside the Spartans area.

Rather than allowing the hosts to build on their advantage, Spartans got back on level terms within two minutes with a well worked goal involving Arron Wearmouth, Ash Davis and Hubbard.

Wearmouth broke down the left before finding Davis on the edge of the United area, and he intelligently laid the ball off to the on-rushing Hubbard who calmly stroked the ball past Hibbert.

If a goal summed up just how devastating this Spartans side can be then that was it.

Chances kept coming and just after the 20-minute mark Maguire forced Hibbert into another one-on-one save, although the striker could have also found Damen Mullen who was unmarked in the area rather than deciding to shoot.

It was Mullen who created the next chance as his slide rule pass released Davis into the right hand side of the area, but again Hibbert was equal to the low shot.

Spartans did not have it all their own way, though, as Dean Astbury volleyed into the ground from 12 yards only to see his effort bounce up over Michal Misiewicz and over the bar.

With the half hour mark approaching Spartans took the lead, and again it was Hubbard who finished off a slick move.

The persistence of Maguire on the right saw him go past Holden on the right hand touchline and he coolly laid the ball back to Hubbard on the penalty spot. Buoyed by his first goal of the season the midfielder took on the shot first time and curled it past Hibbert and into the top corner for a sublime finish to give Spartans the lead they deserved.

But it was a lead that they would not keep for long.

A ball into the Spartans area was dealt with by Buddle but as the former Hartlepool United defender hesitated Skem forward Shaun Tuck managed to take full advantage by lashing the ball past Misiewicz and into the top right hand corner.

Five minutes before the break the hosts took the lead and it was former Witton Albion man Tuck who scored the goal that seemed to have taken his side into the interval a goal to the good.

Arjun Purewal was on the wrong end of a debatable penalty decision as he was adjudged to have halted Astbury’s run and Tuck sent Misiewicz the wrong way from the spot.

But on the stroke of half-time a remarkable first half was capped off as Spartans got a more than deserved equaliser and one that saw Hubbard become the first Spartans player to hit a hat-trick since Paul Brayson at Vauxhall Motors in March 2011.

A jinking run down the left saw Wearmouth embarrass Strickland, turning the full back inside out before finding Hubbard ten yards out and the midfielder made no mistake with his finish.

That capped off a wonderful month for Hubbard after the birth of his new baby boy, Oscar, something he marked by celebrating his treble with the rocking baby celebration.

With confidence flowing after their late equaliser in the first half, Spartans started the second on top.

Wearmouth had been bordering on unplayable at times and he started the second period in much the same fashion.

Just minutes after the resumption of play the former Bishop Auckland winger eased past Strickland before lashing over the bar from the angle.

Chances came and went for Wade’s side as Maguire failed to take full advantage of an accurate Hooks ball that sent him through on goal only to see Hibbert deny him yet again with a smart stop.

In what seemed to be a private battle between the pair, the hosts’ number one denied Maguire one last time with the save of the match.

The Spartans forward danced into the area past McIntosh before unleashing a vicious shot that seemed destined for the roof of the net but Hibbert produced a superb reflex stop to acrobatically tip the ball over the bar and once again frustrate Maguire.

With ten minutes on the clock the decisive goal came, and despite their numerous chances it was frustratingly Spartans who conceded it.

Again they were punished for the hesitancy in defence as Hooks failed to clear and Strickland, by now freed from the torment of the injured Wearmouth, crashed home an unstoppable effort from all of 20 yards.

There was some controversy about the goal, however, with the free kick that started the build up being awarded for a questionable offside decision against Maguire that infuriated the Spartans bench.

Spartans dominated the final five minutes and the additional five injury time minutes, and they had one more golden chance.

With everyone pushed forward Purewal crossed from the right and unsurprisingly it was Hubbard who got closest to the ball. But this time the midfielder could not match his prolific actions of the first half and failed to make decisive contact with the ball running through to Hibbert.

The two teams will do battle again this weekend in the FA Trophy, but first Spartans have to contend with an Evo-Stik Northern Premier League game at Croft Park against Ilkeston on Tuesday night.

Spartans’ man of the match was Craig Hubbard.

Blyth Spartans: Misiewicz, Airey (Kendrick 84), Watson, Buddle, Purewal, Hubbard, Wearmouth (Dale 60), Hooks, Maguire, Mullen (Holmes 83), Davis, Hooks. Subs not used: Horner, Parker.

Attendance: 286.