BLYTH Spartans produced a massively improved performance from their opening friendly defeat in midweek at Ashingtonto draw 1-1 with local rivals Gateshead at Croft Park on Saturday.
A second goal in two games for former Carlisle United striker Craig Farrell gave the home side the lead in the first half, and although Gateshead midfielder Michael Cummins equalised with a second half header, a draw was the least Tommy Cassidy’s side deserved against their Blue Square Premier opponants.
A lively start to the game saw the visitors with most of the possession although Spartans were getting in amongst the Tynesiders and ensuring that they were unable to dictate the game in the way many had predicted pre-match.
It was in fact the home side that created the first chance as striker Farrell forced former Spartans keeper Adam Bartlett into a smart save, although the effort was straight at him.
A minute later and Bartlett was in action again as his miskick almost led to a goal for Phil Bannister.
He siezed upon Bartlett’s poor clearance and attempted to chip the keeper but his effort was easily saved.
As Gateshead got into the game they created their first chance on ten minutes and should have taken the lead.
A break from centre back Chris Bush saw him played in one-on-one with Conor Grant and the Spartans keeper showed the Croft Park faithful what he can do as he made an impressive stop.
On 18 minutes Farrell gave home fans plenty to shout about as he gave his side the lead. He latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the Gateshead area and crashed a half volley across Bartlett and into the far corner.
It was a lead that Spartans deserved for all of their hard work and determination during the opening 20 minutes.
However, going behind forced the Tynesiders to react in a positive manner as Nathan Fisher and James Brown both went close.
But Farrell came close to doubling both his own tally and the Spartans lead as he was played on goal but misjudged a looped effort that sailed harmlessly over the visitors goal.
Two chances in two minutes for the same player almost saw an equaliser for Ian Bogie’s side just before half-time as defender Carl Magnay rose well on two occasions to meet corners but both efforts failed to force a save from home debutant Grant.
It was Gateshead who started the second half the stronger and it was subsitute James Curtis who headed wide from an impressive cross from fellow replacement Yemi Odubade two minutes after the restart.
A first Spartans chance came five minutes in as the impressive Lee Mason cut inside from the right and bent a shot goalwards that Bartlett failed to hold onto but the Spartans winger failed to convert the rebound that seemed to take an eternity to drop.
A number of subsitutes were made by Tommy Cassidy as Bannister and the returning Robbie Dale were replaced by two trialists as the Spartans manager continues to look to add to his squad ahead of the new campaign.
An equaliser came on 70 minutes as an Obudabe corner was met well by Michael Cummins and his effort went into the bottom right hand corner of Grant’s net.
Bouyed by that goal the Tynesiders went in search of another and it was Obudabe who was the main threat with his pace and power, but his mazy run and effort with 19 minutes left was easily saved by Grant.
Whilst you would expect the full-time professionals of Gateshead to dominate in the closing stages, in reality it was different as both Mason and Farrell went close during the last ten minutes.
An impressive inswinger of a free kick from Sam Hodgson saw Mason hook an effort narrowly wide and a Farrell free kick from all of 25 yards was smartly saved.
A surprisingly quiet end to the game saw neither side force any major saves from their opposing keepers and Spartans will take heart from an impressive, hard working and composed performance against their local rivals.
Next up for Spartans is a trip to Northern League first divison side Sunderland RCA on Tuesday night for a 7.30pm kick-off where the men from Croft Park will look to build on their performance against the Tynesiders.