Spartans show their steel in extra time

IT is probably safe to say the Stocksbridge Park Steels are sick of the sight of Blyth Spartans and in particular Robbie Dale this season.

Three times the South Yorkshire outfit have faced them and three times they have been defeated, conceding 13 goals in the process, five of which have been scored by Dale.

That is not to say that Tuesday night’s Doodson Sport Cup tie was a walk in the park for Paddy Atkinson’s side as they were made to work for their place in the next round, but in the end did it in style with a 5-3 victory at the Look Local Stadium.

Following Saturday’s win over Matlock Town at Croft Park, Atkinson rang the changes with former Bedlington Terriers keeper Craig Pickering handed a Spartans debut and Darryll Donnelly, Lee Mason, Jack Stanger and Phil Airey all brought into the starting line-up - the latter at right back, a position he played when he joined Newcastle United’s Academy.

It would be Steels who had the first chance of the game just five minutes in as left back Tommy Agus broke forward and sent a cross-shot goalwards that Pickering did well to tip over the bar.

Spartans’ first chance came just after ten minutes as only an offside flag prevented Mason getting his name on the scoresheet after the winger reacted first to a parry by keeper Billard.

But Steels took the lead on 20 minutes with a well worked goal.

The impressive Chris Bettney played a ball in behind the Spartans defence that released winger Ben Turner and he made no mistake, calmly rolling the ball past the advancing Pickering.

It would be a lead that would last only ten minutes and it would be another goal that come from Spartans skipper Wayne Buchanan as he rose above a static Steels defence to meet a Dale free kick at the far post.

As both sides battled for the upper hand it would be Spartans that had the first chance to go into the half-time break ahead.

Stanger released Mason down the left with a perfectly weighted pass and he rolled the ball back to Ryan McGorrigan. The in-form striker smashed a ball goalwards but was prevented from adding to his six goals this season by Alex Callery as he cleared off the line.

But McGorrigan would not be denied and on the stroke of half-time Stanger was again at the heart of the build-up play as the young midfielder found the former Newcastle United Academy man with a pass in behind the home side’s defence. McGorrigan would show all of his class with an expertly taken finish as he dinked the ball past Billard with the outside of his right foot to send his side into the interval with a 2-1 lead.

Spartans started the second half well and nearly increased their lead when a Mason cross found Andy Jennings on the penalty spot, but the big striker’s first time volley brought an instinctive stop from Billard.

Steels brought on young forward Jordan Thewlis and he would have a big impact on the game with his pace and trickery putting Spartans on the back foot for a spell.

Indeed it would be Thewlis who got Steels back on level terms as he latched onto a Bettney cross and lashed the ball home from the edge of the box.

Before Spartans had time to recover they were 3-2 down as Danny South was left unmarked from a Turner corner to head home from eight yards out.

As Spartans seemed set to exit the cup at the first hurdle they were thankful for a late equaliser from striker Jennings, and it was a goal that sent the tie into extra time.

Man of the match Airey sent a long ball towards the edge of the area and that would cause confusion leading to two home defenders clashing. That gave Jennings time to take a touch and calmly roll the ball into the net as Billard tried to close him down.

Jennings came within a whisker of ending the game in normal time as he latched onto a Shaun Utterson cross but flicked just wide of the near post.

The home side nearly took the lead within minutes of extra time as South could and probably should have doubled his tally for the day.

His close range header crashed against the underside of the bar before Pickering pounced on the ball on the goal line with the Steels players insisting it had crossed the line only for the referee to turn away their appeals.

Minutes before the teams would change ends and Spartans had the lead, and it was from a player who is rapidly coming back into form.

Dale took a quick corner kick and received the ball back from Utterson before driving at his marker Agus and turning him inside out no fewer than three times before lashing the ball into the top corner from a seemingly impossible angle.

It would be a lead that Spartans were in no mood to surrender and in the closing stages of the second period it would be a first goal for the club by Daniel Maguire that sealed the win.

The diminutive striker celebrated his 20th birthday by latching on to a Jennings pass and applied a clinical finish into the far corner to send his side into the next round.

The competition was snubbed by many fans but the night was the perfect work out for Atkinson and his side with the Spartans boss giving game time to many of his players who have not featured recently and they carried on the good feeling from Saturday’s win over Matlock Town.

Blyth Spartans: Pickering, Utterson, Airey, Buchanan, Donnelly, Stanger (Vipond 79), Mason (Maguire 79), Hooks, Jennings, McGorrigan (Turnbull 105), Dale Subs not used: Grant.

Attendance: 32.