By Nick Lough
BLYTH SPARTANS manager Tom Wade was left to speculate on his future after the North East club crashed out of the Evo-Stik NPL Premier play-offs with a 4-3 home defeat to Workington.
The Spartans had led the division for the majority of the season before slipping up at the final hurdle to allow Darlington 1883 to snatch the title, and despite having the home advantage they succumbed to late defeat after a 90th minute winner by Robert Wilson.
“We fought really well but we were hit on the break; other than that I thought it was a pretty even game,” said Wade.
“I thought we defended badly and they defended really well, and their keeper has saved them at the end. I think we matched them all over, but they turned their magic on and we didn’t like we normally do.
“It’s been a very long season for us, and you’d have to say they were that bit hungrier than us. I don’t think either of us played any football. They looked a bit sharper and their three lads up top were excellent.
“It’s disappointing but this level is probably where we are at the moment. When I came here three-and-a-half seasons ago it was to make us a competitive Northern Premier League side, which we are now.
“The next step is a big one, if that’s with or without me that’s up to the club, but we have to use this as a springboard for next season and let’s get up there again.”
The visitors twice came close to scoring during the opening period, with both Connor Tinnion and Joseph McGee hitting the woodwork.
However, the deadlock was finally broken on 34 minutes as striker Scott Allison beat the offside trap to latch onto McGee’s through ball, before poking it past Spartans keeper Adam McHugh from eight-yards out.
Wade’s side pushed for an equaliser, and they drew level in first-half stoppage time. Sean Reid spun on the edge of the six-yard box before scuffing his shot goalwards, but after a mighty deflection the ball diverted past the helpless Alex Mitchell and trickled over the line.
It took Workington just 11 minutes after the interval to regain the lead, and again it was through that man Allison. The forward collected the ball with his back to goal before smartly side-stepping the defender, and rounded off the move with an instinctive finish past the outstretched arm of McHugh.
And Allison rounded off his hat-trick in style on 68 minutes as he turned defender Dillon Morse inside and out before rifling past the goalkeeper at his near post.
Blyth threw on the duo of Neal Hooks and Wilson Kneeshaw in a bid to salvage something from the match, and they both played their part in bringing to hosts back into the tie. Morse reduced the deficit to just one on 74 minutes as he thumped a header past Mitchell after connecting with Hooks’ floated cross.
Then in the 85th minute, Kneeshaw’s enticing low ball across the face of goal was gratefully received by midfielder Dan Maguire who tucked it home to level the scores at 3-3.
But just as the board went up to signal five minutes of additional time, Workington pounced to secure a dramatic winner as a deflected shot kindly fell into the path of Wilson who lashed the ball past McHugh from point-blank range.
A huge win for Derek Townsley and his team, and the Reds’ boss believes the result was a fair one after his team had sneaked into the play-offs after Stourbridge’s slip up against Salford on the final day of the season.
“I think people had written us off a month ago, but we scraped into the play-offs by the skin of our teeth and that’s football,” he said.
“Today was great for us and great for the neutral, and I’m sure Blyth are very disappointed given the campaign they’ve just had. I thought it was a smashing game, and I thought it would have been cruel if we didn’t come out victors.
“Scott (Allison) has had his shooting boots on this season; that’s 31 league and cup goals now I believe which is very impressive. All credit to him, but his third goal showed his composure and ability and I’m sure he’ll be a very happy man tonight.”
On Saturday, Workington travel to Salford City in the Evo-Stik NPL Premier play-off final, but Townsley admits he doesn’t mind once again being second favourites.
“Just like coming here we’ll be underdogs for the final and that’s fine by us, we’ll take that, but for Salford I think the pressure will be all on them,” he added.