Blyth Spartans 1-2 Marine
Deadly Danny Delivers Deja Vu for Mariners at Croft Park...
Two stunning second-half goals saw Marine repeat last season's final day victory at promotion hopefuls Blyth Spartans. With only a threadbare squad at his disposal manager Sean Hessey restored Stephen Wainwright to the starting eleven in place of the unavailable Lewis Codling.
With the Spartans play-off bound and the Mariners having avoided the desperate situation of twelve months ago many spectators may have expected a quiet and perhaps lacklustre affair, however the game ebbed and flowed from the first whistle until the last as both sides treated the Croft Park faithful to an entertaining contest.
Within sixty seconds Andy Owens was gifted possession by the Blyth backline, Owens beating a defender to create space to shoot but the big striker dragged his shot a couple of yards wide of target.
The home side then began to play some incisive football and last season's EvoStik Premier Division player of the year Robbie Dale missed three excellent opportunities to give his side the advantage in the space of six minutes.
Firstly the rangy winger was denied by a smart stop from Matt Cooper from Maguire's centre, before a low cross was cleared from the six-yard box by Stephen Wainwright as far as Dale whose first-time shot cannoned off Cooper's right-hand post. Another cross from the Spartans' right flank then reached Dale on the left side of the Marine box but again the chance went begging as he volleyed high and wide of goal.
The home defence were determined to play out from the back but once again they gifted possession to Owens who was unable to capitalise as he fired wide of the near post from a tight angle.
Chad Whyte then sent an effort from distance well wide of target, before a Dale shot was well held by Cooper following a corner on the Blyth left as both teams continued to attack.
Midway through the half Owens received the ball cheaply from the Blyth defence for a third time, the ex-Telford man declining to shoot from outside of the box before cutting inside and eventually curling a right-footed effort comfortably off-target.
Owens then showed his strength to hold the ball up before finding the onrushing James Short, the ex-Skelmersdale wide man seeing his shot deflected wide by an outstretched Spartans limb.
On the half-hour mark a low ball in from the Blyth right saw Liam Willis slice his attempted clearance, but fortunately for the Mariners the ball flew straight into Cooper's welcoming gloves. The Yellows then pressed forward once more and Warren Bellew's precise diagonal pass found Short who advanced to byline and wriggled past a defender before centring low across the six yard box, but clementine-costumed custodian Otte sprawled low to collect.
Spartans finally breached the Crosby side's rearguard on 37 minutes as Dale's clever flick over the top found Paul Robinson, the midfielder waking the neighbours with a fine turn and low finish from 12 yards.
Blyth sought to extend their lead almost immediately and neat build-up play ended with a cross from their left reaching right-back Nicholson whose half-volley brought an excellent instinctive save from Cooper as he tipped the ball over the bar to prevent further damage.
At the other end Alan Burton fired comfortably wide of goal from an Owens lay-off, before ex-Darlington striker Kneeshaw should have doubled the homesters' lead as half-time arrived, firing over the stand from 15 yards following Nicholson's cut-back from the right.
The open nature of the contest continued after the interval and the despite being under the cosh at times in the opening period the Mariners soon found themselves on level terms in the 50th minute. Warren Bellew closed down Blyth left-back Watson and won possession before cutting inside and curling a delightful left-footed strike from the edge of the box, Bellew's shotte proving too hotte for Otte as the 'keeper got fingertips to the ball but was powerless to prevent it nestling in the far corner of the rigging.
Just two minutes later and Owens tried to better Bellew's fine finish as a ball down the Marine left sat up invitingly for the ex-Telford striker to volley over the stranded Otte from just outside the corner of the Blyth area. Owens' stunning volley crashed against the home crossbar and then rebounded off the left-hand upright to deny a certain goal of the season contender as the relieved home defence cleared their lines.
The final half an hour of the Mariners' league season saw the match take on the appearance of a basketball game as both teams went all-out for the win. Spartans came close to retaking the lead as Watson broke down their left flank before finding Kneeshaw whose well-struck goalbound shot deflected narrowly wide of Cooper's left-hand post.
Having taken a first-half knock Whyte was replaced by Danny Mitchley, the Mariners' leading scorer returning from a recent injury niggle.
Midway through the half Maguire wasted another glorious opportunity for the home side as a goalmouth scramble saw the ball arrive at the striker's feet but he fired a yard wide of target. Mitchley was then quickly involved as an Owens knock-down fell invitingly, the ex-Blackpool hotshot sidefooting a lob over Otte which dropped just the wrong side of the right-hand post.
A Dale free-kick at the other end then took a deflection off the Marine wall but Cooper held securely, before Short's effort from 25 yards flew a couple of yards over the bar as the travelling faithful sensed a chance of victory.
Cooper denied Robinson his second of the afternoon as he parried the midfielder's shot from distance before gathering at the second attempt, before Mitchley's dipping volley from 20 yards dropped a yard over the home crossbar as the frenetic attacking football continued.
The lively Kneeshaw's daisy-cutter from the edge of the box was directed straight at Cooper who held with relative ease, before the Mariners found their winner on 82 minutes with another goal from the top drawer.
Good approach play saw the ball worked to Mitchley a couple of yards outside of the Blyth area. Deadly Danny let fly with his left peg, his shot flying unerringly into the top right-hand corner as Otte was once again left helpless but to admire the quality of Mitchley's strike, Mitchley registering his 23rd goal of an impressive campaign.
Hessey's tireless troops almost added a third goal as Burton's clipped ball to back post saw skipper Andy Nicholas stretch to send the ball rolling agonisingly across goal, the Spartans rearguard scrambling clear.
With time running out Kneeshaw and Dale combined to free Richardson on the left of the Marine box but the midfielder fired over the bar. Cooper then reproduced last season's late heroics as Richardson's cross saw Dale rise highest to power a header which the salmon-shirted saviour parried low to his left and the danger was averted.
In added time Dale resorted to an overly-ambitious volley from all of 40 yards which Cooper collected on the first bounce, and time elapsed as the Mariners recorded an impressive win in a thoroughly entertaining final day fixture.
Marine's season continues with cup football at the Marine Travel Arena on Tuesday evening as they entertain Colwyn Bay in the Integro Doodson League Cup Semi-Final, kick off is at 7:45pm.
Marine: Matt Cooper, Stephen Wainwright, Andy Nicholas (c), Liam Goulding, James Foley, Liam Willis, Warren Bellew, Alan Burton, Andy Owens, Chad Whyte (Danny Mitchley 63), James Short.
Unused subs: Alex Davies, Sean Hessey, Sean Myler. Cautions: Goulding.
Blyth Spartans: Fabian Otte, Alex Nicholson (Andrew Cartwright 85), Jordan Watson, Danny Parker, Dillon Morse, Paul Robinson, Michael Richardson, Neal Hooks, Daniel Maguire, Wilson Kneeshaw, Robert Dale (c).
Unused subs: Matthew Wade, Damon Mullen, Sean Reid, Nathan Buddle. Cautions: Nicholson.
Goals: Marine; Bellew (50), Mitchley (82).
Blyth Spartans; Robinson (37)
Referee: Mr Craig Dean
Assistants: Mr Stephen Rutherford and Mr Asa McDonough