Blyth Spartans’ defense played extremely well tonight, but the Spartans’ dream ended when a pure bit of class from a South American finally got Blackburn Rovers the one goal they needed to go through to the 4th round against Sunderland at The Stadium Of Light.
The lead up to the game had Blyth manager Harry Dunn commenting on Sam Allardyce as Harry said:
“I’ve only seen people like Sam on the television. I never expected to meet a Premier League manager so for me this is fantastic.”
But Harry had the chance to pit his wits against the former Newcastle manager tonight, and his game plan almost came off.
The starting line ups were as follows:
Blyth Spartans: Mark Bell, Boyle, Pell, Leeson, White, Reay, McCabe, Williams, Gildea, Dale, Dalton.
Subs: Farman, Brown, Hume, Poole, Todd, Wright, Watson.
Blackburn: Bunn, Simpson, Mokoena, Khizanishvili, Olsson, Vogel, Grella, Treacy, Judge, Villanueva, Derbyshire.
Subs: Brown, Andrews, Roberts, Hodge, Gunning, Doran, Haworth.
Referee: Andre Marriner (W Midlands).
Sam Allardyce elected to play most of his reserves tonight at Croft Park, although many of his first teamers were either out injured or suspended.
In the first half Blackburn had most of the territorial advantage, but Blyth wisely packed five players across the midfield to make it difficult for Blackburn, and that’s what they achieved. The young Blackburn side were finding it difficult to create any good openings on goal.
Blackburn did have some chances but didn’t really test star goalkeeper Mark Bell until Mark had to make a terrific low save to his right, from from Keith Treacy, to keep out an almost certain goal.
Indeed Bell looked in good form and Blyth had done the job when the half time whistle blew with the scores level at 0-0.
It seemed Harry Dunn was trying to hold Blackburn for as long as possible in the hope that as the game went on, the Blackburn team would become more jittery and the chances of actually winning would spur on his Blyth players.
Everything was working to plan until the 58th minute, when Blackburn got a free kick just outside the box.
And a touch of class was provided by South American Carlos Villanueva, who curled the free kick brilliantly into the top corner of the net, from 25 yards out, giving Marc Bell no chance whatsoever.
The 22 year-old Chilean is on a season long loan at the Blackburn club and his free kick was sublime, and it was always going to take a shot like that to beat Blyth goalkeeper Bell, who looked confident all night long.
Blyth now had to attack to keep in the Cup, and that they did, but they couldn’t manufacture too many chances, even though Blackburn’s back four had hardly ever played together as a unit.
Then on 86 minutes Blyth broke the Balckburn defense open and a great cross from the left wing by Alex Gildea was met flush on the volley by Andy Wright, who had only just come into the game.
Andy hit the ball with screaming pace but it was just wide, to the goalkeeper’s right, when it seemed he must score. TV replays showed the shot closer than we first thought – about 4 inches wide – but that was the chance that could have sent them toi Blackburn for the replay or even been the moment where they could have gone on and even pinched the game.
Moments later Gareth Williams’ cross went straight to the head of Alex Gildea, but Alex couldn’t get over the ball, and headed over the top from just 8 yards out – another chance missed by Blyth and manager Harry Dunn couldn’t believe it.
But Blyth to their credit came on strong in the last 15 minutes of the game, to put in a storming finish and made it very difficult for Big Sam.
Three minutes of extra time was played, but the brave lads from Blyth just couldn’t get the equalizer and they are out of the FA Cup.
But they have done magnificently well in the FA Cup this year, and they are a credit to themselves, to the club and to the village of Blyth.
After the final whistle the sell-out crowd of 4,000 stayed to cheer their players, as they took a well deserved lap of honor around the pitch.
After the game Blyth Spartans manager Harry Dunn said:
“I’m so proud of the players, this has been a really fantastic experience for us.”
“The supporters were fantastic, we went a goal down and the fans were even better. It was a great night for us.”
“I felt at the end we might have nicked a goal, but it took a great strike to beat us from Carlos Villaneuva.”
Blackburn Rovers boss Sam Allardyce:
“It was comfortable until the last few minutes, but having not converted our chances they were bound to get a chance at some stage.”“It’d have been disappointing not to win. We should’ve been more clinical.”
“I was frustrated we didn’t see the game out completely. They need the mentality to change the way they play.”
Well done lads – see you again next year.