7th April 2023
National League North
BLYTH SPARTANS 0-0 DARLINGTON
By Jake Emery
Blyth Spartans’ Good Friday Vanarama National League North clash against Darlington kicked off in ferocious fashion in front of 1523 fans packing out Croft Park as both sides attacked with purpose to drive closer towards their respective, desired intentions as the 2022/23 campaign edges closer to its finale.
Spartans and The Quakers had identical form records heading into the game having registered five points in their last six fixtures. However, after collecting an impressive three points away to league leaders AFC Fylde and another point on the road against Banbury United last weekend, Graham Fenton’s lads possessed an abundance of confidence to go toe-to-toe with promotion-hopefuls Darlington.
The visitors were enforced into a late change affecting their starting line-up as David Wheater was injured in the pre-match warm-up, therefore Nathan Newall took his place in the backline as Jassem Sukar slotted in at centre-half.
In the opening minute of the matchup, Cedric Main was set through on goal by Nicky Deverdics’ chipped pass over Darlington’s backline, however, the Spartans striker saw his effort tipped behind by Tommy Taylor for a corner.
The Quakers responded just two minutes later as Kaine Felix advanced on the right-flank to cut the ball back towards the edge of the box where the advancing Jacob Blyth steered a first-time curling attempt over Alex Mitchell’s crossbar.
Curtis Round picked up a loose ball 25-yards out after five minutes on the clock and unleashed a dangerous shot on goal which fell narrowly wide of Taylor’s top right-hand corner.
Alex Purver registered the next effort for the visitors as he latched onto Mitchell’s parried clearance who was under pressure following an inviting corner delivery by Nathan Newall, however, Jordan Hickey was alert to protect his ‘keeper who was out of position by heading the powerful shot away from the goal mouth.
Shortly afterwards, Darlington were the first to hit the woodwork at Croft Park as another set-piece cross by Newall was glanced against the post by Felix before being swept away to safety.
Deverdics produced a sensational effort from 25-yards after 17 minutes following a relentless Main closing down Darlington’s Jassem Sukar at the back. Sukar’s attempted clearance rebounded up perfectly for the adjusting Deverdics to strike on the half-volley which dipped and clipped the underside of the crossbar leaving Taylor rooted to the spot.
Michael Spellman and JJ O’Donnell combined swiftly on the left flank halfway through the first half, seeing the latter deliver an enticing cross which Main slightly mistimed seeing him be caught underneath the ball with his leap and diverting it up and over The Quakers’ goal.
Toby Lees and Finn Cousin-Dawson were solid and composed at the heart of Spartans’ defence from the first whistle, and the former utilised his awareness and positioning to prevent an opening on Mitchell’s goal by flicking Felix’s cross beyond the arrival of Jacob Hazel on his shoulder.
On 37 minutes, the visitors thought they had found their breakthrough via Hazel who converted a volley from close range, however, he encroached the defensive line and play was brought back for offside.
Ultimately, in the closing moments of the first 45 minutes, the final ball was lacked to reward Spartans’ immense work ethic. O’Donnell and Main both created promising openings deep in the final third as a result of their tireless harrying of the Darlington defence, but clear-cut opportunities were eventually snuffed out and passed up on as the final touches were not intricately applied.
Half-time: Blyth Spartans 0 – 0 Darlington
Three minutes into the second period, Hazel collected the ball in his stride as he ventured into shooting range and let loose 25-yards from goal with a driving attempt which forced Mitchell into a sensational save to his right pushing the ball up and over the crossbar at full stretch.
Following a great spell of pressure by Graham Fenton’s Spartans, Hickey miscued a left-footed strike from 20-yards which bobbled wide after 55 minutes.
Hazel, lacking his usual clinical instinct, was booked minutes later as a heavy touch evaded him through on goal which allowed Mitchell to smother the ball before being on the receiving end of a late lunge.
The end-to-end action heated up once more just after the hour mark as Main was set into Darlington’s penalty area shaping up one-on-one with Taylor but his low, placed strike was saved well before Blyth’s towering header flashed over the crossbar for The Quakers.
A free-flowing move saw Spellman on the left-flank switch the play to Round who then teed up South Shields loanee Will McGowan to hit an effort first time at Taylor, however, the Darlington shot-stopper saved comfortably.
With just over 20 minutes to play, O’Donnell sent a thunderous, long range dipping strike crashing off the crossbar before Hickey fired agonisingly wide following excellent build-up play from Main.
Approaching the final ten minutes of the fixture, Mitchell was on hand to make a string of important saves. He denied Alex Purver and substitute Andrew Nelson in quick succession from close range, before imposing himself at the near post to keep out a powerful shot from Hazel.
Cousin-Dawson was then involved in the thick of the action during the five minutes of additional time which was indicated; he connected with a looping header from Hickey’s corner which fell wide of the far post before picking up two yellow cards in the space of two minutes for fouls deemed worthy of his marching orders.
Full-time: Blyth Spartans 0 – 0 Darlington
Spartans’ winless streak against The Quakers has been stretched as a result of today’s stalemate; the last time a victory was recorded against their counterparts was Saturday 28th October 2017 – which took place at Croft Park (3-1).
Next up for Spartans is a crucial fixture away to relegation rivals Farsley Celtic on Easter Bank Holiday Monday afternoon where a win could see Graham Fenton’s side push out of the drop zone on goal difference.
Blyth Spartans: Alex Mitchell, Rhys Evans, Toby Lees, Jordan Hickey (Jaden Ferguson, 90+1’), JJ O’Donnell, Curtis Round, Will McGowan, Nicky Deverdics © (Michael Liddle, 63’), Cedric Main, Finn Cousin-Dawson, Michael Spellman. SNU: Michael Richardson, Matthew Elsdon.
Darlington: Tommy Taylor, Jassem Sukar, Jake Lawlor, Ben Hedley (Niall Brookwell, 88’), Adriano Moke ©, Jacob Hazel, Jarrett Rivers, Alex Purver, Jacob Blyth (Andrew Nelson, 65’), Kaine Felix, Nathan Newall. SNU: Danny Rose, Declan Howe, Lucas Martin
Yellow cards: Finn Cousin-Dawson (90+1’ & 90+4’) of Blyth Spartans and Jacob Hazel (57’) and Nathan Newall (80’) of Darlington.
Red cards: Finn Cousin-Dawson (90+4’)
Attendance: 1523 (485 Darlington)