BLYTH SPARTANS: Norton, Foster, Brackstone, Gillies (Alexander), Williams, Pell, Hooks, Turnbull, Brayson, Bates (Todd), Dale.
Subs Not Used: Bell and Smith
An under-strength Blyth Spartans side was, in the end, comfortably beaten by the strong, slick Northwich Victoria. Missing 5 key first team players in Tait (mumps), McCabe (broken leg), Craddock (foot), Graham (hamstring) and Harrison (serving the last of a three game suspension) and having no fewer than 6 players passing late fitness tests it was never going to be easy against a side who had hammered Blyth 5-1 in the away fixture in January.
In order to bolster the numbers, Spartans manager Mick Tait, himself struggling with a heavy cold, signed former Sunderland and Aberdeen full back Dan Smith, with the defender taking up a place on the subs bench.
The first action of the game saw the impressive Mark Danks use an impressive turn of pace to outstrip his marker and go around Spartans’ keeper Jack Norton, however the striker’s goalbound effort was superbly defended on the goal line by Stephen Foster, making his home debut following his move from League Two side Darlington.
Blyth’s first chance arrived on 9 minutes, a half hit clearance from the Northwich defence was controlled by Guy Bates and his half volley from fully 40 yards was well saved by the retreating Curtis Aspden in the Northwich goal.
The end of the half saw the two best chances, first a quick left wing move from Northwich saw the ball travel to the back post where Brian Dutton seemed certain to score into an open net, only for ‘keeper Norton to make a sensational save which kept the scores level. The final move of the half saw clever interplay between Bates and Josh Gillies, with the latter producing a sublime backheel which allowed Bates to get away a left foot shot which was bravely defended by the Northwich defence.
Half Time 0 - 0
The second half started with Blyth on the attack, Paul Brayson was adjudged to have been fouled on the edge of the box and the striker picked himself up to fire a free kick just past the far post with Aspden scrambling across to make up the ground.
Northwich took the lead on 51 minutes, a strong run down the left from Danks saw the striker feed Jamie Vermiglio. The winger with his back to goal, expertly spun John Brackstone before firing in a curling effort, which Norton got his hand to, but was unable to prevent going into the net.
Blyth continued to huff and puff and their play improved dramatically with the introduction of Simon Todd with 20 minutes remaining. The young midfielder, signed from Darlington, has found first team football hard to come by in recent months, but with some fine touches and a good awareness of teammates as his incisive and clever passing he tried in vein to push the Spartans onto an unlikely, and probably on the balance of play undeserved, point.
The best chance Blyth had to equalise was when a Todd cross field pass found Robert Dale on the junction of the half way line and the touchline, he produced a trademark mazy run beating 4 Northwich players before curling an effort which looked destined for the far corner of the net, had it not been for a spectacular one handed, diving save from Aspden.
Final Score 0 - 1