Late Hooks penalty ends Spartans’ pre-season with a win

It was a case of better late than never for Blyth Spartans as Neal Hooks’ 89th minute penalty ensured they rounded off their pre-season campaign with a win over Billingham Synthonia.

Their Northern League opponents were late replacements for Darlington 1883 and gave Tom Wade’s side a valuable workout ahead of this coming weekend’s season opener at Marine.

It was Synthonia who struck the first blow in the eighth minute as some sloppy defensive play allowed Paul Sweet to beat Conor Grant at his near post as he pounced on a loose ball.

It took Spartans until the quarter hour mark to make an impression as Matthew Wade just cleared the crossbar from 30 yards after Griffiths had miskicked a back pass.

An even better chance was passed up a minute later when Craig Hubbard headed a Joe Kendrick corner over the bar from eight yards out.

The hard work and persistence of the visitors was causing all sorts of problems for Spartans and they were restricted to efforts from long distance. Mason and Hooks both striking well from outside the box without really forcing Griffiths into anything other than straightforward stops.

However, on the stroke of half-time Spartans drew level and it came as no surprise that it was Dan Maguire who once again got on the scoresheet.

The front man has been in prolific form ahead of the new season and he was first to react after Craig Hubbard was denied by Griffiths.

It was a smart finish from Maguire with the visitors keeper blocking most of the goal at his near post and the only place the striker could score was into the roof of the net, which he did with a clinical finish.

A desperately low key second half saw Spartans in possession for the vast majority without creating too many chances.

Hubbard dragged a shot wide of the far post when he had linked up with Rob Nolan shortly after the break, but the pace of the game and the intensity had dropped as both sides began to look ahead to the start of competitive action next weekend.

With 20 minutes left Mason forced Griffiths into an intelligent stop at his near post, but the chances for both sides were few and far between.

Spartans’ trialist goalkeeper wasn’t really tested during the second period, only seeing a couple of long distance efforts sail over his bar as the game looked set to peter out to a largely uneventful draw.

That was until two minutes from time when the persistence of Mason forced a Synners defender into a error and as the ball ran loose in the box the Spartans winger was brought down with the referee awarding a rather straight forward spot kick.

With regular penalty taker Hubbard substituted it fell to fellow midfielder Hooks to take the kick and he calmly sent Griffiths the wrong way to give his side the win.

Spartans now head into their final week of training ahead of next Saturday’s Evo-Stik Northern Premier League opener at Marine.

Radio Northumberland is providing live online commentary with the show starting at 2.30pm.

Blyth Spartans: Grant, Mullen, Parker, Purewal, Kendrick, Wade, Hubbard, Hooks, Maguire, Mason, Nolan. Subs: Mason, Garrity, Buddle, Tobin, Cummings, Trialist, Trialist.