BLYTH SPARTANS 0-0 MATLOCK TOWN
Tension filled the Croft Park air as the Spartans took on the Gladiators, but this time it was not the Greeks against the Romans but the modern day equivalent in non league footballing parlance.
It turned out to be a tight affair as both sides battled for crucial points, but for differing reasons. Blyth needed to extend their great run of form to keep in play off contention while Matlock were desperate for some reward to aid their relegation battle.
The Gladiators fully deserved a point that they would possibly have settled for before the game, but they so could easily have snatched all three before Blyth rallied late on to leave Matlock hanging on for their draw.
Town boss Mark Hume named an unchanged starting line up from the Easter Monday stalemate against Buxton, looking to make it three games unbeaten against play off chasing opposition.
Blyth began the stronger creating the first chance from a Dan Maguire shot held by Jon Kennedy after a break on the left. Then an instinctive drilled cross field pass from the mercurial Robbie Dale found Jarrett Rivers on the right, the winger’s low cross flashing across the penalty box.
This prompted Hume into a change with Jamie McDonagh supplementing the midfield. Matlock won two quick free kicks, the second one seeing Otis Khan slip as he shotm the ball almost apologetically trickling through to goalkeeper Nick Thomson.
Matlock increased in confidence and belief as the half wore on although clear cut chances were scarce until on 31 minutes, a Niall McManus cross from the right was met first time by Danny Holland whose instant fifteen yard shot narrowly cleared the bar.
Opportunities fell to both sides within a minute in the latter stages of the half, the respective goalkeepers earning immense credit.
Jon Kennedy was down swiftly to keep out a Michael Richardson shot which was made more uncomfortable for the Town custodian by a deflection off Adam Yates. Then in an electrifyingly quick counter attack, Khan forced Thomson to acrobatically tip his shot over the bar, the Pakistani international having found space in the home penalty box.
The second half was divided into two sections of dominance with Matlock bossing the opening twenty five minutes before Blyth took over towards the end.
Thomson again came to his side’s rescue flinging himself to his right to claw away a 51st minute Holland strike. Soon afterwards Danny Parker appeared to slap his hands on the ball but referee Craig Dean ruled Holland had pushed the defender before in a torrid time for Blyth, McDonagh poked a reasonable chance over the bar from twelve yards before having another strike from further out blocked by Parker at the expense of a corner.
The partisan 467 crowd sensed Blyth needed a lift and their encouragement worked for their side.
They won a number of corners and had a goal ruled out in the 77th minute when Richardson pushed home an assist from Ashley Davis following a free kick on the right. Had the goal counted, Matlock would have been seething, with the assistant persuading Mr Dean to award Blyth the free kick after the official had played on following the offence.
Blyth’s celebrations had been cut short, but it did not deter them in their efforts to force a late winner. But Matlock defended stubbornly and at times heroically with Yates and Julian Banton again outstanding at the heart of their rearguard. Their deserved point was virtually confirmed in the second of four added minutes when Kennedy pulled off the save of the game to turn away Dale’s header which was destined to find the corner.
It was a fine solid Matlock display with Nicky Travis outstanding in midfield and Holland leading the line well. If they can sustain this performance level in their final tewo games, Matlock should win their survival battle.
BLYTH SPARTANS: 1 Nick Thomson 2 Alex Nicholson 3 Damen Mullen 4 Samuel Bramley 5 Danny Parker 6 Neal Hooks 7 Jarrett Rivers 8 Michael Richardson 9 Daniel Maguire 10 Mathew Wade (17 Ashley Davis 68) 11 Robbie Dale Other subs: 12 Aaran Wearmouth 14 Craig Lynch 15 Jordan Watson 16 Stephen Turnbull
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Oscar Radford 4 Ted Cribley 5 Adam Yates 6 Julian Banton 7 Otis Khan 8 Nicky Travis (17 Josh Meade 90) 9 Jamie McDonagh 10 Danny Holland (15 Muhammed Sabo 90) 11 Niall McManus Other subs: 12 Scott Maxfield 14 Mark Hume 16 Liam Gaughan
REFEREE: C Dean ATTENDANCE: 467 BEST GLADIATOR: Nicky Travis