AFTER a week dominated with matters off the pitch, Blyth Spartans returned to action on it with a 2-0 defeat at Buxton on Saturday.
Paddy Atkinson stepped up to the role of caretaker manager with Tom Wade returning to the club as assistant manager, and their first team selection was a tricky one for all the wrong reasons.
With the likes of Robbie Dale, Jordon Mellish, Phil Airey and Joe Kendrick out injured, a debut was given to former Blyth Town midfielder Damon Mullen whilst centre back Darryll Donnelly made his league debut for the club.
Lee Mason started on the bench after limping out of the action in the recent FA Cup exit at the hands of Workington and Neal Hooks returned to the line-up having been cup-tied at Borough Park.
The home side were full of confidence having knocked Hednesford Town out of the FA Cup in midweek and that showed in the early stages as they dominated the opening quarter of an hour and had the first chance of the game.
Midfielder Michael Towey broke from midfield and was allowed a free run in the right hand side of the Spartans area but dragged his shot well wide of Conor Grant’s far post.
Slowly and surely Spartans began to find their way and could have taken the lead when some neat interplay from Tom Berj and Callum Hassan saw the former lay the ball off to Craig Farrell, but Spartans top scorer curled the ball over the bar from 12 yards.
Spartans were enjoying their best period of the game when the home side took the lead in what can only be described as freak circumstances.
Buxton were awarded a free kick ten yards inside their own half and goalkeeper Ian Deakin launched a ball to the edge of the Spartans box.
Grant called for the ball and seemed set for a routine take only for the ball to hit a ridge on the pitch and fly over the Spartans keeper and into the empty net.
However, rather than feeling sorry for themselves, Atkinson’s side got on with things and had a decent spell up to the half hour mark.
A left footed effort from Mullen from the edge of the box was comfortably saved by Deakin and then Shaun Vipond crashed an effort just over the bar from the edge of the box.
However, just as with the opener, Spartans were enjoying a good spell of play when Buxton scored a second.
Some lovely play in midfield saw Steve Istead play a superb cross-field ball to the impressive full back Grant Black. He was given time to take an easy first touch but there was nothing easy about his cross which was inch perfect. Striker Mark Reed got up above Donnelly and headed home from the penalty spot.
Spartans improved massively in the second half but only really created two real chances while the home side did not test Grant.
It would be a second half made up of substitutions, yellow cards and some much improved passing play from Atkinson’s side which hints at a more positive outlook in the coming weeks.
Referee Christopher Ward booked Hassan for a clumsy challenge on winger Duncum. Vipond was soon following Hassan in the book for a foul on Istead, and it was soon after the hour mark that the first of two Spartans chances came.
A neat pass and move between Vipond and Neal Hooks saw the latter play a neat pass into Farrell. The former Carlisle United frontman broke towards the edge of the Buxton area but his left footed effort was caught on the bobble and his ball went wide of the goal
It was all about Spartans now as a change to a 3-5-2 formation saw them dominate the midfield and allow players more time on the ball.
They had plenty of possession but some poor deliveries coupled with solid defending from the home side meant the only other chance came on the 90-minute mark.
A corner fell to Vipond on the edge of the box and his ball back in the danger zone found Farrell who struck a good effort narrowly wide of the far post.
So it would be a Spartans managerial debut defeat for Atkinson and Wade, but there were positives to take from the game and with the hopeful return of key players for this weekend’s home fixture with Rushall Olympic.
Blyth Spartans: Grant, Utterson, Hodgson, Berj, Buchanan, Donnolly, Hooks, Mullen, Vipond, Farrell, HassanSubs: Maguire, Mason, Turnbull, Hunter, Salim.