Football: Clarkson quells spirited Spartans

Blackpool 4 Preece 4, Linighan 59, Clarkson 71, 89 Blyth Spartans 3 Henderson 10, Di Lella 44, Atkinson 84 Attendance: 4,814
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The Independent Online
The North-east part-timers were denied a replay they deserved for their resilience if not for their share of this tie by a last-minute winner from Phil Clarkson at Bloomfield Road.

It was a suitably dramatic ending to a match that distilled so much of what is thrilling in the Cup tradition.

The first round draw for the FA Cup is a sentimental affair, regularly throwing up reunions like the return of John Burridge to the club where he began his league career 26 years and almost as many clubs ago.

Apart from managing Blyth Spartans, proud processor one of the most evocative names in non-League football, Burridge still keeps goal at 45 and threatens to make Peter Shilton look like a promising youngster who called it quits prematurely.

Other notables in a side struggling in the Premier Division of the Unibond League included a couple with experience of the Football League in the former Sheffield United pair Mark Todd and Martin Pike, an Argentinian midfielder, and Shaka Hislop's brother, Kona. Plenty of material for a Match of the Day giant-killing feature there.

All Burridge's experience would have been no good to him, however, if Tony Butler had connected better with a clear header from five yards out in the second minute. Butler contrived to put his effort over the bar, but that escape was a sign of how rudimentary the marking was in front of the goalkeeper.

After only four minutes, Andy Preece got in front of Burridge at the near post to head in Mark Bonner's free-kick and the fairytale was fading. Five minutes later, it could have been obliterated altogether when Burridge fluffed his clearance straight to Preece, who chipped wide of the invitingly empty goal.

Blyth had looked out of their depth but suddenly produced an irresistible move, Todd releasing Gustavo Di Lella down the right and the Argentinian doing well to pull the ball back for Damian Henderson to equalise.

All the warning signals were still there whenever the ball went into the centre of the Blyth defence, Lee Philpott missing with another free header before Burridge produced a save from Butler that showed phenomenal agility from a man halfway through his fifth decade.

A minute before half-time Blyth capitalised on all their escapes, when Di Lella scored a magnificent goal to put them ahead against the run of play. The South American, who arrived recently via Darlington, ran the ball across the face of the penalty area before unleashing a screaming left-footed shot into the top corner.

The Blackpool barrage of Burridge continued in the second half with Mark Bonner putting a curling 25-yard free-kick just wide and Dave Linighan narrowly missing the target with a header. Burridge was booked for protesting that he had been pushed, then did remarkably well once more to get down to hold Tony Ellis's shot after the Blackpool man had raced clear of the defence.

Just before the hour, Blackpool got their lifeline, the latest in what seemed an endless series of corners being floated over by Philpott and met with a firm downward header by Linighan.Burridge this time was helpless.

That should have been the beginning of the end for Blyth's spirited Spartans. With 21 minutes to play, their weakness in the air caught them out again. Preece nodded down Junior Bent's cross and Clarkson volleyed left-footed with a tidy finality.

But in the 84th minute two Blyth substitutes combined to level the scores again, Willie Moat crossing for Jon Atkinson's diving header.

With 15 seconds left on the clock, Blyth were denied a second crack at Blackpool on their own ground when the ball ran loose from Bent's centre and Clarkson hammered in his second, and this time decisive, goal.

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