Top two play out tame draw at Croft Park

Blyth Spartans skipper Robbie Dale is congratulated after scoring his side's goal. Picture by Bill Broadley
Blyth Spartans skipper Robbie Dale is congratulated after scoring his side's goal. Picture by Bill Broadley

It was billed as a head-to-head clash of the Evo-Stik NPL premier division pace-setters as second placed Nantwich Town travelled to table toppers Blyth Spartans.

However, in reality it resembled more of a marathon rather than a sprint, although it did eventually provide the Croft Park faithful with something of a fast finish crowd in an enthralling last ten minutes as both sides had a number of chances to take all three points.

The first half never got going with chances at a premium, but if anyone was going to break the deadlock it seemed Spartans striker Dan Maguire was the most likely.

On 25 minutes he produced a spectacular overhead kick that seemed destined to nestle inside the near post but it was cleared off the line by Matt Bell.

Then ten minutes before the break Maguire raced through on goal after a firm headed pass by Arran Wearmouth only for Dabbers keeper Jose Veiga to deny him the chance of rolling the ball past him. The keeper then managed to block Wearmouth’s stinging drive as he pounced on the rebound.

The visitors struggled to create any real chances in the opening half with Sam Hall and Elliott Osbourne trying their luck from distance without causing Spartans keeper Adam McHugh any problems.

However, the Spartans number one was forced into action within five minutes of the restart as he produced a smart stop, diving across his line to parry a Matt Kosylo shot to safety.

The deadlock was finally broken just before the hour mark as Robbie Dale gave Spartans the lead, although the goal had a large slice of fortune about it.

The winger worked his way into the left hand side of the Dabbers area and his cross-shot took a wicked deflection off centre back Matt Bailey, leaving Veiga standed at the near post.

An equaliser almost came for the visitors with what would have been an equally fortunate effort.

Dabbers substitute Lewis Short hit a low drive from 20 yards that Dillon Morse tried to block but diverted the ball just outside the near post with McHugh beaten.

Minutes later there was the equaliser the visitors deserved.

As Spartans failed to clear a cross from the left and that allowed Kosylo to knock the ball down to Steve Jones and the former Crewe Alexandra player lashed a rising shot that flew into the far corner of McHugh’s goal.

However, the Spartans keeper had more success with seven minutes left on the clock as the two sides produced a sprint finish that Mo Farah would have been proud of.

Elliott Osbourne raced through on goal, clear of the Spartans back four, but McHugh denied him by blocking his shot with a smart stop. The rebound fell to Short, but with the goal gaping he diverted his effort wide of the far post.

Tom Wade’s side regrouped after that let off and Alex Nicholson volleyed wide from 20 yards before substitute Sean Reid had a great chance to win it for the hosts.

A cross into the area wreaked havoc for the visitors and the ball fell to the former West Allotment Celtic forward. He was denied by a smart stop by Veiga from point blank range and the rebound fell agonisingly behind Nicholson who would have had an open goal.

With a minute of the three minutes of injury time remaining, Spartans were grateful to McHugh for preserving a hard fought point as he produced a stunning double save to deny Dabbers centre backs John Moran and Matt Bailey.

Firstly he denied Bailey with a smart stop low down at his near post and then blocked a Moran drive from the rebound. That was enough to ensure that both sides took a point from an intriguing contest.

Taking the Evo-Stik NPL premier division promotion race as a marathon, not a sprint could well be a mantra that everyone connected with Spartans would do well to abide by in the coming months.

Blyth Spartans: McHugh, Nicholson, Morse, Mullen, Hutchinson, Turnbull, Richardson (Reid 60), Wearmouth (Watson 70), Maguire, Wade (Hooks 68), Dale. Subs not used: Bramley, Parker.

Attendance: 492.

On Saturday Spartans are at home to Stamford, kick-off 3pm.