By Glen Maxwell
In association with:
ALAN McLEAN FCMA CGMA
Chartered Management Accountant
Saturday July 29 2017
Blyth Spartans 2-2 South Shields
Blyth Spartans were held to a 2-2 draw by South Shields at Croft Park, in their final Saturday pre-season friendly of the summer.
A brace from Daniel Maguire gave Spartans a 2-0 lead at the end of the first half. Shields made no less than eight changes at the break, which invigorated the visitors – as A Trialist clawed one back on the hour.
Ryan Hutchinson was adjudged to have handled in the area on 77 minutes, which saw the Mariners awarded a penalty. Substitute Carl Finnigan stepped up to drill it past Shaun MacDonald’s outstretched hand, to ensure the two sides couldn’t be separated at Croft Park.
Blyth – wearing their brand new home kit for this season for the first time – made six changes to the side that lost 3-2 against Morpeth Town in mid-week, while the Evo-Stik Premier League Division One North side named former Spartans Dillon Morse, Alex Nicholson and Michael Richardson among their ranks.
The home side started brightly and carved out three good chances in the opening exchanges of the game.
Maguire got a touch Ryan Hutchinson’s curled shot on three minutes, but couldn’t divert it goalwards. Jarrett Rivers then cut a pass back on the byline 60 seconds later, but the ball ran just behind the advancing Jordan Laidler.
Rivers did better with his next cross, picking out Nathan Buddle free at the back post. However, the central defender’s diving header went just wide of the upright.
Shields had been forced to resort to aimless long balls forward in the first quarter of the game, but were finally presented with a chance to create something on 17 minutes. Andrew Stephenson floated a free kick into the box from the right, but Dale Hopson cleared Blyth’s lines with a firm header away.
The visitors’ miserable start would be compounded just two minutes later, when Spartans grabbed a deserved opener.
Laidler played a sublime through ball that carved open the Mariners’ backline and released Maguire. Leaving the two centre-backs struggling for pace, ‘Nipa’ comfortably placed the ball past Shields’ trialist goalkeeper and into the bottom corner.
Robert Dale is no stranger to a spectacular strike and fancied his chances of scoring another just after the 20-minute mark. The Blyth captain struck one from long-range and could have caused more problems for the keeper, but a deflection sent the ball behind for just a corner.
A very large contingent of away supporters had made their way up the coast from South Tyneside and they made themselves heard on 25 minutes, when they were up in arms for a penalty shout. Craig Cogdon went to ground in the area trying to get on the end of Richardson’s cross, but referee Adam Herczeg ignored the pleas from around the ground.
Cogdon then had a chance to test Shaun MacDonald on 31 minutes, but he wasted his 24-yard free kick by hitting it straight into the Blyth wall.
Hopson had a set-piece of his own on the left wing four minutes later, which nearly produced a second goal for the hosts. The midfielder disguised his shot as a cross and the trialist goalkeeper had to be at his best to keep it out, with a smart stop away to his left.
Alun Armstrong’s side didn’t have to wait much longer to double their lead though – after the home side’s trialist midfielder picked up a stray pass in midfield and ran at goal on 37 minutes. He slipped the ball into box and weighted it perfectly for Maguire, who simply rolled it home with his left foot for his second goal of the afternoon.
With time running out on the first half, Dale opted to strike from distance again and – with no deflection this time – his sweetly struck effort looked certain to tear the back of the Shields net. However, a fantastic diving save from the Shields stopper denied the talismanic winger a wonder goal and saw Blyth into the break with a two-goal lead.
Shields introduced all eight of their substitutes at the break, with only Craig Baxter, John Shaw and Darren Lough remaining in their defence for the second half. Those changes led to Shields creating as many chances in the first five minutes after the restart as they had in the first 45.
A trialist blazed a 20-yard free kick over the bar on 49 minutes, before another trialist for the visitors was found free in the area two minutes later. The number 19 rose up to meet the cross in the air, but glanced his header wide of the far post when he should have really tested MacDonald.
Carl Finnigan attempted a fierce drive through a crowd of bodies in the Blyth box on 56 minutes, following a lapse pass from Michael Liddle. The ball got as far as the penalty spot, before a Spartan body got in the way to block it away.
Spartans had been forced to dig in after the restart, but an intuitive Hopson nearly made it 3-0 on 58 minutes – after he spotted the substitute trialist goalkeeper off his line. His shot from 40 yards sailed just over the bar, but it had the keeper concerned for a moment.
Rivers was next to try his luck a minute later, when he struck across goal from outside the area. Unfortunately, for the tricky winger, his shot went wide of goal.
Having failed to extend their lead, the hosts saw it halved on the hour mark – as the number 19 trialist for the Mariners more than atoned for his earlier miss with a fine finish. Drilling a shot from the edge of the area, he found the bottom corner with MacDonald left standing.
A resurgent Shields then had a chance to level on 64 minutes, when Jordan Blinco was played in one-on-one. MacDonald rushed out and remained tall, before producing a fine stop at the substitute’s feet to avoid conceding a second.
Maguire went looking for his hat-trick soon after and tried to curl one around the goalkeeper, but a block saw the ball go harmlessly behind for a corner.
With 19 minutes to go, Hopson picked out the head of Dale with a free kick on the left. The Spartans skipper nodded the ball on towards goal, but could only watch as it bounced down onto the base of the far post.
Further misery was to follow for Spartans six minutes later, when a speculative strike from Finnigan struck the arm of Hutchinson inside the area and Herczeg awarded the visitors a penalty. Finnigan stepped up himself and drilled home a well-taken spot-kick, placing it just out of McDonald’s reach.
Blyth kept pressing to try and restore their lead, but their trialist midfielder blazed over from 18 yards on 84 minutes. Maguire then fired wide across goal from a tight angle two minutes later.
A Dale free kick looked to have caught Shields cold with two minutes to go, but neither Buddle or Hutchinson could get a touch on the ball to divert it goalwards. Although, even if they had, the assistant’s flag had already been raised for offside.
As the game approached 90 minutes, Rivers jinked in the area to create himself an opening. Shooting with a number of Mariners bodies surrounding him, he couldn’t keep his attempt down – as both sides had to settle for a draw.
Spartans conclude their pre-season preparations with the visit of Whitby Town on Tuesday night (7:30pm kick-off.)
Blyth Spartans: MacDonald, Hutchinson, Liddle, Trialist, Buddle, J Watson (Cartwright 81), Rivers, Hopson, Maguire, Laidler, Dale.
Subs not used: I Watson, Mullen, Trialist, Trialist, Hooks.
South Shields: Trialist (Trialist 46), Baxter (Morse 78), Lough, Storey (Smith 46), Morse (Trialist 46), Shaw (Nicholson 78), Nicholson (Trialist 46), Stephenson (Finnigan 46), Cogdon (Blinco 46), Richardson (Trialist 46), Sullivan (Callaghan 46).
Subs not used: N/A
Referee: Adam Herczeg
Spartans Man of the Match: Daniel Maguire