Blyth Spartans stormed in to the last eight of the FA Trophy with a stunning performance in this third round replay at The Butchers Arms Ground, to set up an eagerly anticipated Quarter Final tie with arch rivals Gateshead, at Croft Park.
Following the controversy which arose in the game on Saturday, with the officials failing to spot a blatant hand ball by Droylsden’s Ciarran Kilheeney, which prevented a Michael Tait header from crossing the goal-line, you could have been forgiven in believing that Blyth’s Wembley dream was over for another year. But try telling that to Mick Tait’s players and the travelling supporters prior to kick off, who were simply magnificent from start to finish.
Spartans last reached this stage of the competition 28 years ago following a memorable victory over the then mighty Altrincham at Croft Park and this result against a talented Droylsden side will also go down in history as one of Blyth’s best ever performances in the FA Trophy. Just like that day in 1983 an opposing player was shown a straight red card and on this occasion it was Droylsden’s Nat Kerr, for a reckless challenge on Blyth’s Paul Brayson.
In the opening stages of this contest the visitors threatened to run riot as they carved the bloods open on several occasions in front of a sparse crowd at The Butchers Arms Ground.
Brayson had an effort within the first minute when he tested Paul Phillips with a low strike from 30 yards. And in the next attack, the Droylsden goalkeeper was on hand to save from the Blyth striker again, this time from close range following a good ball by Liam O’Mahoney.
Stephen Turnbull then turned sharply in the area but fired wide before O’Mahoney again found a team mate with a telling pass and this time it was Nicky Deverdics who was left frustrated by Phillips.
The home stopper was eventually beaten in the 7th minute, when Swailes who had found himself in an advanced position following a corner, whipped in a perfect ball for Michael Tait, who guided his header past Phillips. Tait was harshly booked for running towards the ecstatic Blyth supporters gathered behind the goal and made history in becoming the first ever Spartans player to be cautioned for over exuberant celebrations.
Two minutes after the restart, the normally lethal Brayson missed a decent opportunity when Phillips parried a Neal Hooks shot to the feet of the striker who sliced his effort over the bar.
Up to this point Blyth had been in total control and Droylsden’s only real effort on target had came when David McNiven almost caught out Dan Lowson with a cross which looked to be sneaking in at the goalkeeper’s near post.
The Bloods’ danger man, Jody Banim then hit a free kick from 25 yards which clipped the top of Lowson’s crossbar before the Droylsden striker forced Blyth’s goalkeeper into the save of the match when his fierce effort was spectacularly tipped over.
On a slippery surface, an attempted clearance by Droylsden’s John Hardicker would have ended up in his own net if it wasn’t for the quick reactions of Phillips who punched clear.
The pitch played a part again minutes later when Luke Holden zipped a free kick along the surface, which Lowson got a strong hand to.
It was proving to be a frustrating evening for the Blue Square Bet North’s leading goal scorer, Paul Brayson, as even when he took a sublime first touch from an O’Mahoney pass, the ball then bounced up, hit the striker’s knee and rolled to Phillips, with just the keeper to beat.
In the last act of the first half O’Mahoney supplied Brayson again, who after another fine touch uncharacteristically placed his shot high and wide of the mark from only eight yards out.
There may have been a contrast in the dressing rooms at half time but Blyth’s dominance continued after the interval as Deverdics had a shot from inside the area saved by Phillips.
Blyth dominated possession before the home side had their own spell of pressure either side of the sending off.
Holden had two attempts from outside the box, the first of which went wide with the second being tipped behind by Lowson.
In the 67th minute Nat Kerr lunged in on Brayson in a senseless and needless challenge in a wide position just inside the Droylsden half. Referee Mr Handley had no choice but to send Kerr for an early bath following an unexplainable incident.
The home side, however, still continued to press as Lowson turned a Banim shot behind before Hooks cleared a header from the same player off the line.
Dan Groves then demonstrated his capabilities at both ends of the field. He blocked a shot by Holden and in Blyth’s next attack he raced forward to be found cleverly by Deverdics and proceeded to round the keeper and score with such poise and precision that nobody would have guessed it was his first goal for the club. This 77th minute goal from Groves gave 10 man Droylsden a mountain to climb and Blyth continued to put their opponents to the sword in a one sided finale to the game.
Blyth’s third goal arrived on 80 minutes when a deep corner from Turnbull found Tait at the back post, who took one touch and fired a powerful shot through the body of Phillips into the back of the Droylsden net. This put the result beyond any doubt and prompted the travelling Spartans fans to sing ‘bring on the Gateshead’ with Heed boss Ian Bogie watching on from the stands.
Five minutes from time, O’Mahoney wrapped up an excellent display and like Groves scored his first goal in a green and white shirt, when he forced home a Brayson cross at the back post, despite the best efforts of Phillips.
This was a truly great night when the players, supporters, management staff and representatives of Blyth Spartans AFC done the club proud.
Droylsden: Phillips, Roche, Brownhill, Kerr, Hardicker, Boyd (Hanley), Gardner, Killeen, McNiven (Rouse), Banim, Holden
Blyth Spartans: Lowson, Groves, Cave, Tait, Swailes, Buchanan, Hooks, Turnbull, Brayson, Deverdics, O’Mahoney
Referee: D. Handley.