No glory in defeat for Spartans

WHILST the London 2012 Games was a never to forgot event, there was plenty that Blyth Spartans will want to forget as they failed their own Olympic test on Saturday in going down to a disappointing defeat at Dales Lane.

That despite Spartans being quickest out of the blocks only for their flame to burn out as the Rushall Olympic took charge and ran rings around a visitors defence that looked as punch drunk as a beaten boxer.

Spartans manager Paddy Atkinson handed a first league start to former Bedlington Terriers keeper Craig Pickering as he replaced the injured Conor Grant between the sticks, and Lee Mason was recalled to the line-up, taking his place on the left side of midfield.

Dan Maguire would also make his first start since December, with the ex-Seaton Delaval striker taking Ryan McGorrigan’s place in the Spartans front line.

New signing James Baxter started his Spartans career on the bench.

Atkinson’s side could have taken the lead within the first two minutes as Robbie Dale danced past three Pics defenders and forced Chris Gemmell into a smart saved at the winger’s feet.

The home side suffered a blow as captain Gavin Caines was taken off injured in the tenth minute when he suffered an ankle injury after falling awkwardly.

Within a minute of the substitution the home side had the lead as a lack of concentration cost Spartans.

Winger Andre Landell was left unmarked on the left side of the area and was given time to pick out the unmarked Dave Walker who finished easily from eight yards out.

But within five minutes Spartans would be on level terms with a goal of some quality.

A one-two between Shaun Utterson and Andrew Jennings saw the former put a perfect cross into the box that found the head of man of the match Maguire and the striker finished superbly from ten yards for his first league goal for the club.

As both sides battled for the upper hand on an increasingly boggy pitch, the game turned scrappy with neither side being able to take control.

There were chances, though, with Craig Hubbard heading straight at Gemmell from a Phil Airey free kick and Pickering impressively tipping over a Curtis Obeng effort from 15 yards.

But it was a nightmare last five minutes of the first half that took the game away from Spartans as they conceded twice before referee Lewis Price blew the half-time whistle.

On 40 minutes an inch perfect dink over the top of the Spartans back four from Carl Palmer found Obeng one-on-one with Pickering and the striker wasted little time in dispatching the ball past the keeper.

Then in injury time a free kick from the right hand side by Jonathan Haynes missed every player in the box and deceived Pickering to creep inside the far post and send the Pics into the interval two goals to the good.

Within two minutes of the second half that margin was three and again it was an unmarked Dave Walker who did the damage for the home side.

A free kick from Haynes found the striker eight yards without a Spartans defender close and he gleefully headed home for his 18th of the season.

Spartans clawed one back in slightly fortunate circumstances as Maguire got on the end of a Jennings flick and was adjudged to have been fouled by Gemmell as the two challenged for the ball, although even the most loyal Spartans fan would have been surprised at the spot kick award.

Just as he had last week at home to Buxton, Craig Hubbard coolly dispatched the penalty, sending Gemmell the wrong way.

As Spartans pressed forward looking to get back in the game they created chances with Hubbard and Dale going close, but they also left themselves open to the pace of Obeng as he gave the Spartans back four a torrid time.

With ten minutes left Obeng killed off any chance of a comeback when he got on the end of a long ball and rounded Pickering before holding off a weak challenge from Donnelly and rolled the ball into an empty net.

He nearly sealed a hat-trick as the clock ticked into injury time but could not make the most of yet more sloppy defending by Spartans.

It was a game that anyone connected with Spartans will not look back upon with any fondness, although Maguire was easily their man of the match for his hard-working attitude and never say die spirit.

The tagline of the London Olympics may well have been about inspiring a generation but Spartans will have to improve quickly if they are to inspire the Croft Park crowd when Ashton United come calling on Tuesday night.

Blyth Spartans: Pickering, Utterson, Airey, Hubbard, Buchanan, Slaughter, Mason, Hooks, Jennings, Maguire, Dale.

Attendance: 197.