FOLLOWING almost a month of postponements, Blyth Spartans were back in Blue Square Bet North action at Altrincham on Saturday, but were still feeling under the weather on the journey home from Manchester as a 2-1 defeat left Tommy Cassidy’s side bottom of the league.
To make matters worse, substitute Lee Mason was shown a straight red card with six minutes remaining and will serve a three-match suspension.
In a game of two halves at Moss Lane the hosts capitalised on having the wind at their backs during the opening period by taking a 1-0 lead into the break thanks to a strike from Marlon Broomes.
The Robins then doubled their advantage from the penalty spot through Damian Reeves three minutes after the interval, but the visitors hit back five minutes later when Graeme Armstrong, pictured, headed home to halve the deficit.
Spartans then squandered a number of chances – even after being reduced to ten men – and will feel aggrieved at not taking away at least a share of the spoils.
Blyth’s new loan-signing, Joe Kendrick averted the danger with a headed clearance following a testing cross from Shaun Densmore in Altrincham’s first meaningful attack of the game.
Broomes then headed wide with a glancing header before – at the other end – Armstrong struck a 30-yard shot into the hands of Joe Collister.
Altrincham had the ball in the net on 19 minutes but the linesman had raised his flag a long time before Reeves finished past Spartans goalkeeper Robert Birdsall.
Reeves then hit a weak shot on the turn in the area which took a nasty bobble but Birdsall managed to show safe hands on the goal line in claiming the effort.
Amidst constant Altrincham pressure there were only sporadic forays in to the opposition half from the visitors and on one such occasion Glen Taylor fed Armstrong in the area, who hit the side netting from a tight angle.
The Robins got the goal they deserved on 33 minutes when James Lawrie turned sharply in the area and found a surging Broomes, who slid the ball past Birdsall from 10 yards.
Lawrie then came close himself five minutes later when he rattled the upright from 16 yards.
The travelling Spartans supporters were relieved to see their side enter half-time just a goal behind but were soon to be heard uttering a collective “here we go again” three minutes after the interval when referee Paul Davidson pointed to the spot after a challenge from Wayne Buchanan on Lawrie.
Altrincham were awarded a last minute penalty in the corresponding fixture at Croft Park three and a half weeks ago and it was a similarly innocuous challenge which led to this one.
Just as on that occasion Reeves once again gave Birdsall no chance from the spot by smashing the ball into the corner of the net.
Spartans responded well to going further behind and almost pulled one back through Wayne Phillips who thundered a shot off the post from 30 yards.
On 53 minutes a deep cross from Kendrick was headed in by Armstrong which silenced the home support – who were now well aware that their side had a real game on their hands.
The visitors almost scored an equaliser three minutes later after another dangerous delivery from Kendrick this time found Taylor whose header was brilliantly tipped away by Collister.
Hooks was next to get on the end of a cross from Kendrick but couldn’t find the target as he stooped to connect with a header.
Taylor then had two chances in quick succession but failed to find the target with either before Birdsall – at the other end – prevented the game from slipping away from Blyth by denying Matt Flynn with a reaction save from a close range header.
Birdsall came to the rescue again in the hosts’ best spell of the half when he thwarted substitute Jack Redshaw, with the striker bearing down on the Spartans goal.
On 84 minutes an off the ball incident involving Mason and Nicky Clee was spotted by referee Paul Davidson, with the official appearing to indicate a stamp was involved when brandishing the Spartans player with a red card.
Despite the sending off Spartans continued to look the more likely to score next and almost did so through Taylor – who forced Collister to turn a shot destined for the bottom corner around the post.
From the resultant corner Kendrick almost curled the dead-ball directly into the net with Collister hurting himself by colliding with the post in keeping the effort out.
Spartans were still not finished and in one last attack Armstrong dragged his shot wide after it had appeared to open up for him.
Blyth Spartans: Birdsall, Groves, Kendrick, Anzevui, Buchanan, Mellish (Mole), Utterson (Mason), Hooks, Armstrong, Taylor, Phillips.
Spartans were due to play Stalybridge Celtic at Croft Park on Tuesday before making the trip to face Worcester City on Saturday.