BLYTH Spartans exited their third cup competition in the space of two weeks as they were knocked out of the FA Trophy by high-flying Stalybridge Celtic at Croft Park on Saturday.
The two sides have had contrasting fortunes in the league so far this season, with Spartans rooted to the bottom of the Blue Square Bet North table and Celtic in second with two games in hand on leaders Hyde.
And the gulf in class was evident throughout this contest as the visitors controlled large parts of the game and were full value for their 3-1 win.
Spartans captain Graeme Armstrong had the first chance of the game when he latched onto a through ball by Chris Emms, but could not find a way past Craig Macgillivray in the Celtic goal.
Conceding early goals has been a feature of Blyth’s season and they failed to buck this trend on Saturday as they found themselves behind after just six minutes, with Steve Brogan putting his side ahead when he poked the ball through the legs of David Knight, after his initial effort had been saved by the Spartans goalkeeper.
The hosts almost restored parity straight from the restart when Armstrong turned sharply in the area only to see his curling shot clip the post and go behind for a goal kick.
Armstrong managed to get his name on the score sheet on ten minutes after good work from Jamie Mole down the left provided him with a simple tap in at the back post, which put his side on level terms.
Both sides had chances before the interval with Knight saving brilliantly to prevent a Greg Wilkinson volley from finding the back of the net.
At the other end a corner from Neal Hooks found Armstrong unmarked in the area but the striker failed to keep his header down.
Conner Jennings then missed the target when through on goal but made amends the other side of the break when he finished past Knight on 50 minutes after a neat passing move.
Within the space of a minute Stalybridge were further ahead, and it was Jennings again who profited from slack marking in the Blyth defence as he tapped home at the back post after a cross from Marsh.
Things almost got even worse for Spartans with 20 minutes remaining as substitute Craig Hobson saw his effort hit the upright.
To their credit, Blyth played some decent football in the closing stages but just lacked the cutting edge in the final third of the pitch.
An intelligent switch of play from Hooks found Phil Cave with time and space on the edge of the Stalybridge area, but the full back snatched at his shot and it flew well wide of the far post.
Spartans will be looking for a result when they make the long trip to face fellow Blue Square Bet North strugglers Bishop’s Stortford on Saturday.
Blyth Spartans: Knight, Purvis (Slaughter), Cave, Groves, Buchanan, Pearson, Emms (Briggs), Hooks, Armstrong, Mole, Phillips (Taylor).