The point Gavin Cowan’s side claimed at Croft Park improved on defeats in their last two visits to the Northumberland coast; however, the mood on the team coach was likely to have been subdued following a late equaliser that denied the Bucks the victory that their overall performance deserved.
A calamitous error from Courtney Meppen-Walter in the 90th minute handed Blyth a point which they may feel they warranted, having shown commendable spirit. In truth, they were fortunate to still be in the contest, the Bucks having spurned several opportunities to put the game well out of reach in a dominant first half performance. The visitors also felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Aaron Williams was sent sprawling in the penalty area early in the second half, but Blyth rode their luck and ultimately made the Bucks pay for their wastefulness.
An unchanged Bucks starting eleven quickly set about the task against a youthful Spartans line-up, and started to gained plenty of early encouragement. Williams had a shot blocked and captain Shane Sutton’s downward header from a corner was saved by keeper Brendan Pearson, as Blyth struggled to match them.
After 13 minutes, Jason Oswell headed the visitors into the lead with his second league goal of the season; Henry Cowans was finding plenty of opportunity to push forward in the right wing back role, and his deep cross to the far post was the kind of chance Oswell thrives on, the striker getting up above defender Rhys Evans to head the ball over Pearson and in.
Manager Cowan could be heard imploring his side to be ruthless, eager to press home their advantage. Oswell headed into the side netting with virtually the next attack of the game, and defender Theo Streete saw his goal bound header cleared off the line. James Hardy, an instrumental figure in both of the Bucks games to date, was once again at the heart of things, and he saw his shot aimed for the top corner deflected wide as the second goal started to look inevitable.
For all their efforts, the one goal margin remained all that was between the two sides at the interval, with Blyth giving notice that they weren’t out of this game with virtually the final kick of the half, keeper Russ Griffiths saving at his near post from namesake Priestley Griffiths.
The home side raised their tempo early in the second period, and Griffiths had to be alert to clear away from danger when Paul Blackett outpaced Sutton to deliver a dangerous ball into the six-yard box. The Bucks best opportunity to double their lead arrived on 52 minutes; however, Oswell could only direct his header wide of Pearson’s goal when he evaded his marker from a corner.
Just three minutes later, referee Johnny Irwin turned down the Bucks appeals for what they felt was a clear penalty, Williams left on the turf when a defender made contact with him. There was a nervous moment in the 70th minute when Griffiths raced from his penalty area to intercept Blackett’s run; the forward went to ground but the referee booked Blackett for simulation.
In the final quarter of an hour, the visitors became more nervous, perhaps conscious of the precariousness of their lead. Sensing they had little to lose, Blyth enjoyed their best spell of the game, although the Bucks lead remained intact.
As the game’s final minute arrived, the Bucks’ Meppen-Walter under-hit a back-pass to Griffiths and panic ensued; the keeper was left in no man’s land and home forward Blackett gleefully took the opportunity to pivot and strike the ball into the unguarded net from 20 yards out.
The Bucks had been made to pay a heavy price for their failure to make the game safe, but remain unbeaten, with Cowan keen to emphasise the positives of a point from such a lengthy road trip.
Bucks: Griffiths, Streete, Sutton (c), Meppen-Walter, Vaughan, Cowans, Byrne, Walker, Hardy (McHale 85), Williams (Davies 80), Oswell.
Unused substitutes: Rawlins, Lilly, Barnes-Homer.
Scorers: Oswell (13).
Blyth Spartans: Pearson, Evans, Scott, Elsdon, Cunningham, Charlton (McKeown 77), Thompson, Heslop (c), Blackett, Griffiths, Russell.
Scorer: Blackett (90).
Unused substitutes: Dart, Panos, Guy, Taylor.
Referee: Jonny Urwin.
Assistants: Kirk Freeth, Iain Turner.