Graham Fenton’s side recorded a 1-1 draw away to Pitching In Northern Premier League East Division newcomers Newton Aycliffe on Saturday afternoon in their third pre-season fixture of the schedule ahead of the 2023/24 Vanarama National League North campaign.
Alex Mitchell returned to the squad between the sticks. At the same time, the likes of Rhys Evans, Michael Liddle, Nicky Deverdics, Harrison Clark, Rio Joisce, JJ O’Donnell and Curtis Round all started the matchup alongside three trialists.
Thunder and lightning mixed in with a downpour of heavy rain bellowed in the build-up to kick-off, but by the time the first whistle blew belatedly due to an assistant referee being held up in traffic, a summer’s day commenced.
It was Spartans who would start to shine in the opening encounters as a flurry of attacks put early pressure on the hosts’ backline.
With eight minutes on the clock, an in-swinging cross from Rio Joisce on the left flank was met by the head of Curtis Round but he couldn’t quite direct the momentum on target, seeing his effort rise over the crossbar.
Featuring in a centre-half pairing with a trialist, Rhys Evans made a crucial block on 11 minutes deep inside the penalty area to defect a dangerous strike on goal for Newton Aycliffe in response to Spartans beginning the friendly on the front foot.
JJ O’Donnell made a mazy run off the right flank and into the hosts’ penalty area on 16 minutes, which saw his eventual attempt ricochet out to the advancing Nicky Deverdics who dragged a right-footed strike narrowly wide from just outside the box.
Persistent harrying from Joisce and Round deep in the attacking third forced the ball to a trialist to unleash a shot on target, however, the Newtonians ‘keeper excellently saved with his feet from point-blank range just before the half-hour mark.
Alex Mitchell was called into his first piece of action of the afternoon five minutes later as he was alert to make a smart parry down to his right-hand side to keep out an awkwardly bobbling attempt which skimmed off the wet surface.
Both Joisce and Harrison Clark had respective efforts on goal as the first half neared its conclusion, however, limited from range, they both failed to test the hosts’ ‘keeper.
On the stroke of half-time, Jacob Mallinson was presented with the ball in a tight opening for the Newtonians inside the penalty area and fired in a powerful left-footed strike from an acute angle into the roof of the net to see his side lead heading into the break and second period.
Half-time: Newton Aycliffe 1-0 Blyth Spartans
Jon Shaw was introduced for the second half to slot in at central defence alongside Evans while Joisce made way for a trialist too.
Round latched onto Deverdics’ cross 10 minutes into the period and found himself blocked out at the crucial moment to prevent his low effort from hitting the target.
A counterattack crafted neatly by the hosts forced Mitchell to adjust and backpedal to claim a looping attempt on 57 minutes before the turnover of play saw a trialist steer a strike wide for Spartans having been teed up by O’Donnell.
The equaliser was then found on the hour mark for Spartans as pressure on the Newton Aycliffe defensive line caused confusion which allowed a trialist to pinch the loose ball and wrong-foot the hosts’ ‘keeper to slot it into the back of the net simply.
O’Donnell went close five minutes later as he rode a few challenges and progressed into the final third where he let fly slightly off balance; his resulting effort unfortunately failed to hit the target, though.
The final piece of major action from the fixture came on 82 minutes as Mitchell superbly kept the scoreline at 1-1 by narrowing down an opening to dive low to his right and push an attempt out for a corner which was destined to nestle in the bottom corner.
Full-time: Newton Aycliffe 1-1 Blyth Spartans
The Spartans next face off against Hartlepool United on Saturday 22nd July, with a 3pm kick-off at Croft Park.
Tickets for the fixture are priced at £10 for adults, £5 for concessions, and under-10s are admitted for free when accompanied by a paying adult. An extra £2 cost is incurred to be seated in the Port of Blyth main stand.