Late Marine equaliser fails to take shine off Blyth Spartans performance

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Only a late penalty denied Tom Wade and his Blyth Spartans side the perfect start to their Evo-Stik Northern Premier League campaign at Marine on Saturday.

But despite the late equaliser, Spartans put on an organised and committed performance against a top side at the Arriva Stadium.

Wade and new assistant manager Colin Myers handed competitive debuts to five players after a busy summer in the transfer market.

Ryan Cummings, Arjun Purewal, Danny Parker, Matthew Wade and Dean Holmes were handed starts on Merseyside.

They did have to deal with the late withdrawal of Craig Hubbard, whose partner is close to giving birth to their baby, and Arran Wearmouth who is still awaiting clearance from the FA after moving to Croft Park from Bishop Auckland during the week.

The new season was nearly opened with a spectacular bang and it was a player who shone last season at Spartans who came close to a wonderful goal in the first minute.

Robbie Dale found Dan Maguire on the right hand side and the forward struck an unexpected 25-yard volley that nearly caught out McMahon in the home goal.

The home side hit back straight away and it was Spartans keeper Conor Grant who was called into action next with a smart stop at his near post after a snap shot from Marine danger man Dean Astbury.

As both sides felt their way into the new season a lull in the game followed, but that was ended on 25 minutes as Spartans deservedly took the lead.

A long ball forward caught out the hosts and Dean Holmes made the most of his pace to latch on to the loose ball, and as he headed into the area he was brought down by McMahon and referee Duncan Carratt pointed to the spot.

Joe Kendrick stepped up and crashed a low effort into the bottom left hand corner to put Spartans in front.

The home side almost hit straight back and it was Astbury again who was at the heart of everything dangerous.

The front man beat Wade and Cummings before smashing a rising effort only to be denied by an excellent reaction stop from Grant.

With the clock ticking down to the interval, Spartans had a golden chance to double their lead when a Hooks free kick from the left wing caused havoc in the Marine area. The ball fell to Maguire who headed against the bar from eight yards with Wade denied by a brave stop from McMahon on the follow up.

The home side were expected to come out of the blocks in the second half and they lived up to those expectations.

It was no surprise that Astbury was again the main threat. However, anything the striker was throwing at Grant was being impressively repelled by the former Gretna keeper.

Spartans back four with debutants Purewal and Parker were still looking calm and composed, and were well supported by skipper Kendrick and stand-in right back Cummings.

With 20 minutes left on the clock Maguire nearly doubled the lead as he latched on to an inch perfect Kendrick through ball but was denied by an excellent stop from McMahon.

Just as it seemed Spartans’ discipline and organisation was to be rewarded with a hard earned three points they suffered the cruellest of blows.

They failed to clear a ball into their box and Marine substitute Monaghan just got to the ball ahead of Parker who brought down the youngster with the referee pointing to the spot for the second time in the game.

Andy Fowler stepped up and made no mistake, crashing into the roof of the net to earn his side a point.

The Arriva Stadium was the scene of a hammering for Blyth last season, but the discipline and commitment shown by the squad on Saturday deserved more than a point.

And a big positive was the way the youngsters in the squad settled into life at a higher level and how several of the more experienced members supported them through the game.

There is a case for optimism ahead of their home debut for the new season when newly promoted Trafford make the trip to Northumberland on Tuesday night.

Blyth Spartans: Grant, Cummings, Parker, Purewal, Kendrick, Wade, Mullen, Hooks, Maguire, Holmes (Mason 71 mins), Dale. Subs not used: Tobin, Nolan, Howarth.

Attendance: 305.