HAVING had to wait 30 years since their last appearance in the third round of the FA Cup, the Croft Park regulars are nothing if not patient.
They, and the thousands of extra supporters who swelled the Blyth Spartans crowd last night, had to wait a very long time to celebrate the Blue Square North team’s return to the romantic section of the world’s most famous cup competition, but it was well worth the wait.
Despite playing with a one-man advantage for the final half hour, it looked as though Blyth’s replay with Bournemouth would follow the first game at Dean Court and end 0-0 after 90 minutes.
But just as the prospect of extra time and maybe even a nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out loomed, substitutes Andrew Wright and Ged Dalton combined to send the Spartans into delirium.
Blyth’s bench looked to be their weak point at the start of the night but Dalton, released by Carlisle United last season, became the talk of the Northumberland town only minutes after his pantomime antics had made him a minor villain.
Booked minutes earlier for a dive, Dalton pounced at the far-post to volley home Wright’s left-wing cross and set up a January 5 clash – like the last two live on television – against Premier League strugglers Blackburn Rovers at Croft Park.
It was all too much for one of the Croft Park floodlight towers, which went out 150 seconds into added time amid the excitement.
In 1978’s fifth-round replay at St James’s Park it had been Wrexham who left it late to break Blyth hearts and book a quarter-final with Arsenal.
But this time Harry Dunn’s Cherrypickers made sure it was they who claimed the spoils at the end of an enthralling, if not high-quality, replay.
Injuries and suspensions hit the hosts hard, with Dunn only able to name six substitutes. He opted to play it cagey in the first half.
Robbie Dale and Anthony Hume were deployed behind Shuan Reay, playing as the “fairy” at the top of Dunn’s seasonal Christmas tree formation, with responsibility to funnel back and help out the full-backs.
The result was a congested midfield, even more so when Bournemouth pulled Josh McQuoid back into what had started as a five-man engine room. Unsurprisingly, chances were few and far between.
The Cherries’ first opportunity of note did not come until a 21st-minute corner, their first of the game.
Scott Guyett came up from the back to get his head on it, but the ball was scrambled clear.
Lee Bradbury, once a million-pound striker, showed his class with a mazy run a couple of minutes later until Richard Pell came across to snuff out the danger.
Bournemouth lost captain Shaun Cooper to a dislocated elbow just nine minutes in and although the North East weather was not quite as bracing as the Southerners might have feared, this was not going to be a night for the faint-hearted.
Dale’s lunging tackle on Joel Ward reminded them as much. It had the defender reaching for an imaginary card and the referee, Graham Salisbury, for a real one.
As the first half went on and the amount of action around Mark Bell’s goalmouth remained minimal, Blyth grew in confidence.
Pell spooned a header into the air in the 38th minute but it underlined the threat from Gareth Williams’ set pieces.
Dale and Hume worked Williams into a shooting position in the box only for Cooper to get a foot on the ball before Dale could shoot.
Reay broke from the right in first-half added time after winning a tackle. Adrenalin got the better of him and he shot wildly but it all provided encouragement for Dunn’s half-time team talk.
The interval did nothing to halt the shift in momentum. Shwan Jalal twice had to save from set pieces soon after the restart, Reay and Andrew Leeson getting their heads to the crosses.
Blyth soon had a numerical advantage when Brett Pitman threw himself into a reckless challenge and left Bournemouth to play at least 31 minutes with 10 men.
Dale fired a shot across goal soon after, but his team were unable to make Pitman’s indiscipline pay instant dividends.
The red card, and a tendency from a couple of the Spartans players to either go to ground too easily or stay there too long, added a bit of unnecessary spice to proceedings. Dalton was booked nine minutes from the end of normal time for diving.
As the 90th minute approached, the game began to open up. Reay’s powerful shot forced a good save, but only after Alan Connell wasted the game’s best chance, shooting wide after creating space on the edge of the area. Dalton soon ensured it was a costly miss.
BLYTH SPARTANS: Mark Bell, Leeson, Boyle, Williams, Pell, Poole (Wright 62), Watson, Gildea, Dale, Reay, Hume (Dalton 72). Subs (not used): Farman, Fenton, Gladwin, Evans.
Booked: Dale, Dalton.
Goal: Dalton 90.
BOURNEMOUTH: Jalal, Guyett, Cooper (Partington 9), Pearce, Bartley, Hollands, Ward, McQuoid (Pitman 56), Molesley (Connell 72), Bradbury, Cummings. Subs (not used): Pryce, Garry, Igoe, Preston.
Sent off: Pitman (59).
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).