Rivers’ late strike has Blyth Spartans dreaming of big guns in FA Cup

The Blyth Spartans bench celebrate their FA Cup victory over Hartlepool United. Picture by Frank Reid
The Blyth Spartans bench celebrate their FA Cup victory over Hartlepool United. Picture by Frank Reid

SkyBet League Two side Hartlepool United will see their name alongside the likes of Bournemouth, Shrewsbury and Stoke City as Jarrett Rivers’ 90th minute winner wrote another chapter in the FA Cup giantkilling history of Blyth Spartans.

However, Tom Wade’s side did it the hard way after former Middlesbrough youngster Jonathan Franks had given the home side the lead just after the half hour mark.

It was a lead Pools held at the interval and they were good value for that as they took advantage of a nervous looking Spartans.

But the second half was a different story as a resurgent Blyth were level 11 minutes in thanks to a wonderful free kick from former Pools man Stephen Turnbull.

That set the platform and Rivers’ late winner set off jubilant scenes in a packed away end at Victoria Park.

It was the home side who settled quicker into the game as they dominated the opening stages.

Within three minutes they had their first chance as the dangerous Franks broke down the right before picking out Dutch winger Sidney Schmeltz and the former Sparta Rotterdam man made decent contact with a header but former Pools season ticket holder and Spartans keeper Peter Jeffries produced a wonderful save diving full length to his left.

The pressure continued and Paul Murray’s side could and perhaps should have taken the lead just after the ten-minute mark.

Former Chelsea and Leeds United midfielder Michael Woods broke into the right hand side of the Spartans area but could only send a low right foot drive wide of the far post.

Spartans finally had their first chance in the 20th minute, albeit a half chance. A 20-yard free kick from Dan Hawkins took a slight deflection off the wall but the ball fell kindly for Pools keeper Scott Flinders.

The hosts took the lead just after the half an hour mark and it was deserved.

Full back Neil Austin – who had a loan spell at Gateshead in 2002 – got past a Robbie Dale challenge on the Pools right hand side and chipped to the far post. The cross took Jeffries out of the game and allowed Franks to finish easily from inside the six -ard box.

Blyth were rocking with the home side making a mockery of their poor league form by taking control of the fixture.

A half chance for Dan Maguire was Spartans’ initial response to going behind before Pools quickly got back on top.

Schmeltz was a vibrant part of an impressive opening half for the side who are bottom of League Two, and his cross from the left saw former Newcastle United loanee Marlon Harewood head into the side netting from an ever increasing angle.

The final chance of the half fell to the visitors as they came within a whisker of a messy equaliser eight minutes before the break.

Dale had a first chance to test Austin as he found some space on the left hand side of the area. The winger managed to squeeze a cross-shot goalwards and Flinders could only fumble the ball just past his near post.

A resurgent Spartans appeared for the second half and the hard work of Maguire – who was ploughing a lone furrow up front – set the tone for the half.

His quick thinking led to the free kick that gave Spartans their equaliser as the striker was tripped by Matthew Bates.

Former Pools midfielder Turnbull sealed the sweetest of returns to Victoria Park as he curled a right footed free kick into the top corner to set off jubilant scenes in the away end.

Spartans were on top and the midfield trio of Dan Hawkins, Matty Wade and Turnbull started to dictate play. Rivers buzzed, Maguire pressured and Dale ploughed away to push the home side back.

They did so without creating any meaningful chances but a tone had been set and the nerves rocked around the home supporters.

That said they came within the thinnest of margins of retaking the lead 20 minutes into the second half.

A ball into the box was headed down by Brad Walker and it found Harewood six yards from goal and the powerful striker held off Nathan Buddle and flicked the ball goalwards. Jeffries got a touch but it squirmed away from him and towards the net only for the Spartans number one to pluck the ball from on the line.

Many pre-match predictions had seen experts believe that fitness would play a big part in the outcome of the game, but Blyth set about showing that their semi-professional status meant little.

A dogged determination and will to win saw them continue to press for the winner, but again without creating any chances of note.

That was until Rivers’ big moment. With the 90 minutes mark just about to hit he took full advantage of an error of judgement by Richard Jones and made his way into the Pools area. A step over sent Bates off balance and that allowed Rivers to send a low drive into Flinders’ net from around 12 yards out.

If the scenes that followed Turnbull’s free kick were amazing, then what followed Rivers’ goal required a new superlative.

There was one final chance for the home side as they went more direct in their approach in the hope of forcing a Croft Park replay.

A long ball into the Spartans area saw the ball fall to Harewood’s feet but he was blocked by Jeffries. The rebound fell to Bates who smashed a volley at goal, where a slight deflection off the head of Buddle sent the ball against the crossbar and over for a corner. However, much to the surprise of the Pools players a goal kick was awarded.

A minute later the whistle was blown and an FA Cup run that began way back in September against Darlington reached a new height.

The name of Blyth Spartans will be in the draw against the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

Hartlepool United: Flinders, Austin, Bates, Lanzoni, Jones, Featherstone, Woods, Walker, Franks, Harewood, Schmeltz (Compton 75). Subs not used: Holden, Maxted, Campbell, Hawkins, Richards, Smith.

Blyth Spartans: Jeffries, Nicholson, Watson, Buddle, Hutchinson, Turnbull, Hawkins(Mullen 67), Rivers, Maguire, Wade (Richardson 76), Dale (Wearmouth 90). Subs not used: Hooks, Dixon, Parker, Harrison.

Attendance: 3,375.