Football: Spartan spirit finally broken

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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FOR John Burridge a playing career spanning the best part of three decades ended virtually where it began as his side's giant-killing prospects were wiped out by a last-minute Blackpool winner.

The Blyth player-manager, who made his Blackpool debut 26 years and what seems like as many clubs ago, saw his part-timers denied a replay when Phil Clarkson's second goalflashed past him with 15 seconds left on the clock.

A goalkeeper who has matched Peter Shilton for durability then decided that it was time to concentrate on the managerial side of his responsibilities, although he left the door slightly ajar for a playing comeback even in his late forties if the Spartans ever decide to dispense with his services. "If I wasn't managing, I could be playing in the Premiership - no doubt about it," he said.

It was fitting that Burridge should bow out not only on the ground where he played some of his best football but also in a game that was full of the distilled essence of FA Cup magic.

Blyth could have been 3-0 down before they staged their first attack, but somehow kept it down to Andy Preece's effort and then equalised when Gustavo Di Lella pulled the ball back cleverly from the byline for Damian Henderson to score.

Di Lella threatened to upstage his boss. The 24-year-old Argentinian, who will attract attention from league clubs when his goal is played and replayed this week, ran along the face of the penalty area just before half-time with the defence holding off and unleashed a left-footed screamer into the top corner.

Blackpool wondered where on earth he had come from. The surprising answer is Darlington. "If Zola does that in a World Cup final, he's a hero for life," said the Blackpool manager, Nigel Worthington. Blackpool equalised through Dave Linighan's header on the hour and went ahead through Clarkson's neatly taken volley nine minutes later. That was surely the end for Blyth's spirited Spartans, but in the 84th minute two substitutes combined to level the scores, Willie Moat crossing for Jon Atkinson's diving header.

Then Clarkson struck again, hammering the ball past Burridge for his second and this time decisive goal after Blyth had failed to clear Junior Bent's cross.