Spartans beaten by wonder strike

A WONDER strike from Chorley midfielder Dale Whitham ensured that Blyth Spartans came away from Victory Park Stadium empty handed despite a battling performance.

The Magpies completed the double over Paddy Atkinson’s side in a game where Whitham’s strike was the only difference between the two sides in what was an even contest, although Spartans were looking drained during the closing period after their 5-3 extra time victory over Stocksbridge Park Steels in the Doodson Cup the previous Tuesday.

Atkinson kept the spine of the side together that had won at the Look Local Stadium during the week, but three changes saw Conor Grant, Richie Slaughter and Damen Mullen come in for Craig Pickering, Darryll Donnelly and Lee Mason.

Phil Airey was rewarded for his man of the match performance at Stocksbridge and kept his place at full back whilst Jack Stanger was given another chance to impress in centre midfield alongside Neal Hooks.

A fairly low key start saw neither side really take the initiative and it took until the quarter hour mark for the first chance when only an assistant’s flag denied the home side taking the lead.

A shot from the edge of the Spartans area by Adam Roscoe deflected through to Curtis Haley and the Magpies striker was left with a simple finish from six yards, only for his effort to be ruled out as he was standing in an offside position.

Five minutes later Spartans had their first chance as Mullen played the overlapping Airey into the left side of the hosts area and he crashed a cross across the face of goal only to see it cleared as both Andy Jennings and Ryan McGorrigan closed in at the far post.

Both sides suffered injury blows during the first half with the home side having to replace winger John Cunliffe with Jamie Vermiglio and Spartans had to replace Stanger with Shaun Vipond.

Up until then Stanger had been impressive and the tackle that saw the young midfielder limp off with a knee injury infuriated Atkinson and disrupted the flow of the Spartans midfield.

Just before the break Spartans were denied the lead by a last ditch tackle from defender Mark Ross.

A Robbie Dale throw-in found Jennings in the box and the striker hooked the ball over his head which seemed to leave Mullen with a simple finish from six yards. However, Ross came from nowhere and denied Mullen what would have been his second goal of the season and ensured that Spartans went into half-time with the game scoreless for the first time in the league this season.

The home side came out of the blocks first in the second half and should have taken the lead within the first five minutes.

Only a superb point blank stop from Grant denied Stephenson after the striker had volleyed at goal from eight yards out, and then Shaun Utterson denied Magpies captain Teague by clearing his goalbound header off the line.

Spartans slowly started to get back into the game and nearly had the lead after Dale collected a headed clearance on the edge of the box and drifted past his marker Russell. Dale struck a right footed effort from just past the near post although the angle was always against him.

Just after the hour mark Utterson broke into the right side of the hosts area and smashed a cross into the box only to see Whitham deflect the ball narrowly past his own post.

Whitham may have been fortunate then but there was nothing lucky about the goal that came nine minutes later.

A ball into the Spartans area was cleared by Utterson to around 30 yards out, that found Whitham and the Magpies midfielder took one touch before crashing an unstoppable effort past Grant and into the net via the underside of the crossbar.

In the closing stages there was no lack of effort from Spartans but they were clearly showing the effects of the win over Stocksbridge in midweek, but to their credit they created two great chances.

With ten minutes left a one-two between Utterson and Hooks saw the former float a superb cross into the box but it narrowly avoided both the far post and the attempts of Spartans substitute Dan Maguire and fell narrowly wide.

Another Spartans substitute Craig Hubbard had the final chance of the game as the clock ticked towards the 90th minute as he latched onto a Maguire knock down only to see his 20-yard effort well saved by Cudworth and ensured Spartans came away with nothing to show from a whole hearted display.

Blyth Spartans: Grant, Utterson, Airey, Stanger (Vipond 36), Buchanan, Slaughter, Mullen (Hubbard 79), Hooks, Jennings, McGorrigan (Maguire 72), Dale. Subs not used: Kendrick, Mason.

Attendance: 608.