Witton Albion 2-1 Blyth Spartans
Help For Heroes Stadium
Evo-Stik Northern Premier League
18th August 2012
A late penalty consigned Spartans to an opening day defeat at Witton Albion on a day when the club should be celebrating the acheivements of Robbie Dale, who scored his 100th goal for the club. Manager Tommy Cassidy handed competitive Spartans debuts to Conor Grant, Tom Berj, Craig Farrell and Phil Airey as Spartans attempted to bounce back from relegation last season.
An quiet opening period to the game saw both sides creating nothing and certainly gave no indication of what was to come. It took ten minutes for the game to spring into life when the home side took the lead. Striker Shaun Tuck collected a pass on the right wing and ran at Spartans defender Wayne Buchanan. Tuck cut inside and lashed the ball passed Grant to put the recently promoted Albion into the lead.
However Spartans hit back and got back on level terms on fourteen minutes with a superbly worked goal. Collecting the ball in the middle of midfield, Dale beat two men and played a one-two with Craig Farrell. Dale was driven wide by Cooper in the host’s goal but managed to loop an effort over the keeper and a defender on the line and got his century of goals for Spartans.
Five minutes later Spartans could have taken the lead but debutant Airey was denied by the offside flag. Some pressing by Berj in midfield forced an error from Albion centre back Booth and the ball fell to former Newcastle United striker Airey who calmly rolled the ball past the keeper. However the linesman decided that the last touch before the ball fell to Airey was from Berj and the goal was chalked off. On the half hour the home side had a chance when midfielder Connors had an effort from twenty five yards out that was narrowly deflected wide of Grant’s goal. Spartans were forced into a late first half sub when Lee Mason came off and was replaced by Paul King, another debutant for Spartans. On the stroke of half time Albion nearly took the lead when a snap shot from Hancock clipped the bar but the sides went into half time level.
The second half got off to a very slow start as both teams suffered in boiling hot temperatures and it took until the hour for the first chance when Hancock again hit the woodwork. He drove past Buchanan and struck a shot across goal but the shot crashed off the inside of the post and rolled across goal before being cleared. Another Spartans sub meant another Spartans debutant as Scott Blandford came on for Airey on sixty seven minutes. With ten minutes left Spartans had their best chance of the second half and again it was Dale who was at the heart of the action. Some good build up play involving Berj, Utterson and King led to Dale striking a superb half volley from the edge of the box. However Albion keeper Cooper saved well and ensured the ball was pushed out wide before being cleared.
With the clock running down the home side got stronger and looked to be on top. Centre Half Harrison went close with two minutes left on the clock as he headed an Andrews cross narrowly wide of Grant’s near post. Andrews was influencial as full time drew closer and testing Grant with a twenty yard free kick but the Spartans keeper was equal to the effort. However in the final minute of three minutes injury time the home side got a winner. It was dangerman Andrews again who caused trouble and he charged into the box and was brought down by Sam Hodgson, although the Spartans midfielder did seem to pull away from making a challenge. The spot kick was taken by Albion full back Gardner and he made no mistake, blasting the ball down the middle to give his side the three points and ensure Spartans would look to their opening home fixture on Stocksbridge Park Steels on Tuesday night for their first points of the season.
Spartans Man of the Match: Wayne Buchanan
Witton Albion: Cooper, Gardner, Wood, Harrison, Booth, Sheehan, Hancock, Connors, Stott, Tuck, Andrews Subs: Fallon, Glover, Schofield, Buchan Wooley. Goalscorers: Tuck 10, Gardner 93 pen
Blyth Spartans: Grant, Utterson, Kendrick, Hodgson, Buchanan, Jones, Mason, Berj, Farrell, Airey, Dale Subs: Vipond, Mellish, Blandford, King, Hunter. Goalscorer: Dale 14