A dominant display by Blyth Spartans ended in a disappointing defeat as Frickley Athletic completed a late smash-and-grab goal to record a 1-0 win.
A much-changed Blyth side created a host of chances but were made to rue their wastefulness in front of goal when Rhys Meynell nodded in late on to claim all three points and gain revenge for Athletic’s 3-1 FA Cup defeat at Croft Park last month.
There was still time for Spartans to try and draw level in second half stoppage time, but Alex Nicholson blazed wide from an open goal as Frickley claimed only their second Evo-Stik Premier League win of the season.
Following their exit from this season’s FA Cup in the 4-2 defeat to Morpeth Town on Saturday, Tom Wade opted to make no less than six changes to the starting line-up as Blyth returned to league action at Westfield Lane.
Among those changes were Luke Armstrong and Jarrett Rivers, who were both brought in to make their first starts of the season on the left and right wing respectively, while Nathan Buddle was deployed in central midfield.
And Rivers looked eager to repay his manager’s faith straight away as he jinked down the left with ease in the first minute before playing the ball back to Sean Reid, who in turn fed Daniel Maguire in the box, but Blyth’s top scorer scuffed his shot under his foot and the chance was gone.
Rivers proved himself equally adaptable on the right two minutes later when he whipped in a ball to the back post. His cross picked out Maguire perfectly but his header could not get past his marker.
Maguire then went on a fine individual run, evading two tackles on his travels. He laid the ball off to Armstrong, but the youngster was unable to get a shot away before Macaulay Parkinson cleared it for a corner.
Spartans had dominated in the first five minutes, but Frickley played their way back into the contest with two half chances within a minute.
Andrew Ofosu looked to get in behind from a great through ball from midfield, but was denied by Peter Jeffries after the Spartans’ stopper rushed out to hoof the ball clear.
Jeffries was alert again to thwart Athletic when he readjusted himself well to claim Ofusu’s deflected cross under pressure from Luke Mangham.
With the game clock barely into double figures, Blyth went close once more. Stephen Turnbull found the head of Richard Pell at the back post, but the defender’s effort went down into the ground and was gathered easily by Sebastian Malkowski.
Maguire, looking to reach double figures for the season, then lived up to his nickname when he nipped in between Rhys Meynell and Sam Hanna in the heart of the Frickley defence. ‘Nipa tried to lift the ball over Malkowski but the goalkeeper was able to pluck it out of the air.
They had not provided much in front of goal, but Frickley went close to opening the score in fortunate circumstances on the 15-minute mark.
A cross-shot by Noel Burdett on the right floated in the air and looked to be heading for the Blyth goal and Jeffries had to have his wits about him to keep it out.
Five minutes later Athletic had another chance that could have easily gone in another time. Burdett shot and Pell dropped his head to try and clear it but failed to get as much on it as he’d have liked. The ball changed direction to Jeffries’ surprise but went harmlessly behind for just a corner.
Jeffries had kept everything out that was thrown at him up until this point, but nearly had a helping hand in putting ahead.
Both Reid and Maguire were the only two players to react to the keeper’s long clearance, with the latter picking the ball up. Maguire tried to square the ball to Reid inside the box for an easy tap-in, but he placed it too near to Malkowski and the former Polish international was able to get down to thwart them.
A Frickley clearance on the half-hour mark was picked up by Armstrong some 30 yards out. The winger - Looking to double his tally for the season - struck a fierce drive at goal that asked questions of Malkowski, but the Frickley stopper rushed to get behind it and just kept it out.
Rivers had been problematic for the side’s full-backs all evening and nearly produced another moment of magic to break the deadlock, with time running out in the first half. Cutting inside from the right, he curled a beautiful ball beyond Malkowski but it went agonisingly wide of the far post.
There was still time for Blyth to create a few more chances to try and go in ahead, when Turnbull put another corner into the Athletic area.
The ball dropped kindly for Reid to strike, but his shot was blocked yards out from goal. Buddle reacted quickest to the rebound and struck the ball back towards goal, but - again - the home side’s defence were able to get a body in the way.
In the half’s last piece of action, Buddle - playing in central midfield instead of his usual centre-back position - played a wonderful through ball to put Reid in. However, with August’s Port of Blyth Player of the Month poised to pull the trigger, Meynell expertly took the ball of his toes to deny him the chance at goal.
The second half started at break-neck speed and the fast-paced action resulted in chances at both ends.
First, Burdett advanced into the Blyth area, but was denied by a fantastic challenge from Ryan Hutchinson. The Frickley fans appealed for a penalty while the forward fell to the floor, but referee Matt Sowerby was not to be fooled.
Blyth broke quickly from the fallout of that challenge and the ball ended up with Maguire on the left - after he turned Gary Stohrer inside and out. The prolific striker unleashed a rocket that flew past Malkowski, but it clattered down clear of the line off the underside of the bar.
Armstrong went close again in the 56th minute, when Rivers picked him out at the near post from the right. The 20-year-old tried to guide the ball in on the volley, but he could only send the ball wide.
A fortunate block by substitute Nathan Curtis played in strike-partner Burdett, who was alive to the loose ball among the Blyth backline. Luckily, for the visitors, Jeffries was on hand to quell the danger from his shot.
Chances were starting to come thick and fast, but Spartans were left frustrated when an instinctive save from the Frickley goalkeeper denied them a certain goal. Maguire’s cutback from the byline appeared to have been turned in by Reid, but Malkowski managed to maintain his clean sheet with a brilliant save from point-blank range.
After replacing Armstrong, substitute Matty Pattison seemed keen to prove Tom Wade wrong from starting him on the bench and was the next Blyth player to try his luck at goal with less than 20 minutes to go.
Following good work on the right, the former South Africa international cut inside and fired the ball across goal. With the ball destined for the top corner, a defensive header was all that denied Pattison his fifth goal of the season.
Spartans appeared to be in trouble when substitute Curtis went down on the edge of the box following Hutchinson’s challenge. However, the referee gave the decision in favour of Blyth and booked Curtis for simulation.
With six minutes to go, Blyth’s hearts were in their mouths once more when Frickley had another shout for a penalty. Burdett went down in the area following a challenge by Jeffries, but Sowerby opted against signalling for a spot kick.
Frickley started to step it up in the game’s final moments and their efforts were rewarded from a set-piece.
Captain Meynell met a corner at the near post with four minutes to go and made no mistake with his header - as it snuck past Jeffries and into the net.
Spartans piled forward to try and restore parity, but were left with their heads in their hands once again in added time.
Buddle volleyed at goal from a cross on the left, which Malkowski was able to get a hand on. The ball parried back out to substitute Nicholson, but he missed an open net when the goal was at his mercy as he summed up the away side’s disappointing night in Yorkshire, which ended in ugly scenes as both sides made their way towards the tunnel.
Blyth Spartans: Jeffries, Cartwright (Nicholson 88), Liddle, Pell, Hutchinson, Turnbull, Armstrong (Pattison 65), Buddle, Maguire, Reid (Richardson 79), Rivers. Subs not used: Nicholson, Parker, Bell.