Spartans’ FA Cup dreams over at first attempt

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Blyth Spartans’ FA Cup campaign faulted at the first hurdle as AFC Fylde left Croft Park with what looked like a comfortable win but in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

Faced with a tie that manager Tom Wade referred to as “The hardest draw we could have had at this stage”, Spartans put on a brave show and gave the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League title favourites a good run for their money.

Wade made two changes from Tuesday night’s stalemate at Droylsden with Damen Mullen and the fit again Arjun Purewal replacing Ian Watson and Arron Wearmouth.

Spartans got off to a flyer and within five minutes they had taken the lead with a well taken goal from Matthew Wade, the midfielder’s first goal for the club.

Following a spell of pressure, Mullen curled a cross in from the right that Coasters defender Andy Russell failed to clear and the loose ball fell to Wade who made no mistake in confidently volleying home with the inside of the right foot.

There was no room for complacency though and the visitors fired a warning to Spartans that they would not have it all their own way within minutes of Wade’s opener.

A corner kick from left by Harry Winter was flicked on to the roof of the net by Andy Russell and in truth the defender should have taken advantage of the free header at the near post.

In an enthralling opening 20 minutes both sides had chances but Spartans remained a goal to the good.

On the half hour mark that lead could have been doubled thanks to some incisive build up play involving Robbie Dale and Craig Hubbard.

They combined superbly on the edge of the Coasters area and it was the latter who fired across goal forcing Russell into a last ditch tackle with Dan Maguire set to roll the ball into the empty net.

That missed opportunity was punished by the visitors with a goal of high quality.

A ball into the Spartans area made its way to the left hand side of the box where the dangerous Danny McGoldrick seized on the loose ball and took one touch beyond Damen Mullen before firing into the far corner, Conor Grant got a touch but the power of the effort meant the keeper could not prevent the goal.

In the closing five minutes of the first half Spartans created two quick fire chances with Maguire at the heart of both.

Firstly he collected a ball from Neal Hooks and spun his marker before firing just past the far post from just inside the area. As Spartans maintained the pressure they forced a corner that was taken from the left by Mullen. His cross to the far post found the head of Purewal who headed down to Maguire eight yards out. The striker reacted superbly by acrobatically volleying goalwards only to see Hinchliffe produce an instinctive save to ensure the sides went into the interval on even terms.

Just as in the first half Spartans had the first chance and only minutes after replacing the injured Joe Kendrick, new addition Ian Watson nearly grabbed his first goal for the club.

The former Whitley Bay man collected a pass from Phil Airey before seeing Hinchliffe tip over his right footed effort.

Again Spartans fell to a sucker punch minutes later and it was the impressive Matt Blinkhorn who gave the Coasters the lead.

After being released by Andy Sumner, the former Blackpool striker went past Airey before firing across Grant with a clinical finish.

Far from feeling sorry for themselves, Spartans went in search of an equaliser and came close on the hour as Hubbard headed over from ten yards after rising above everyone to meet another quality cross from Mullen.

Wade threw on striker Rob Nolan with 20 minutes left and the former North Shields man came within a whisker of an equaliser.

He was released into the left hand side of the area by a clever chip from Nathan Buddle but Nolan saw his snap shot deflected into the side netting by a desperate challenge from Hankin.

The resulting corner caused a controversial incident that Spartans can look back upon as unfortunate to say the least.

Mullen’s corner kick was only parried by Hinchliffe and Matthew Wade headed home the loose ball only to see the goal ruled out with many inside Croft Park puzzled by the decision.

Referee Tony Peart seemed to indicate that the visitors keeper had been fouled as he tried to claim the cross, despite being under next to no pressure.

Spartans became more and more desperate as the clock ticked down and the clearest sign that it just was not their day came bang on the 90th minute.

A break away from Hubbard saw the midfielder release Watson 12 yards from goal but he could only fire over the bar.

That miss was compounded as substitute Jamie Rainford sealed the win for the Coasters as he produced a clinical finish after being played through on goal by man of the match Blinkhorn.

So for Spartans any dreams of another historic cup run are shelved for 12 months, but the long term benefits of this game should have more far reaching consequences than the glory of any run.

It has been well documented that Wade and assistant Colin Myers have put together a young side and one that many speculated would not be able to cope with life at Croft Park in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League.

On Saturday’s performance, despite the result, Wade’s youngsters have proved that they can match the best that the league has to offer.

Spartans man of the match: Dan Maguire.

Blyth Spartans: Grant, Airey, Purewal, Buddle, Kendrick (Watson 45), Mullen, Hubbard, Wade, Hooks (Nolan 72), Dale, Maguire Subs not used: Cummungs, Parker, Wearmouth.