Vanarama National League North: Blyth Spartans 3 Bradford Park Avenue 0

BRADFORD Park Avenue’s promotion hopes took another blow as they suffered a big defeat to fourth-placed Blyth Spartans ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Vanarama National League North leaders Salford City.

The north-easterners snatched an early lead at Croft Park and doubled it just before the interval to leave Park Avenue cursing their luck and the relentless fixture list.

The home side were gifted an advantage as Shane Killock’s weak back header left keeper Steve Drench exposed, and he brought Dan McGuire down as he rushed out to meet the forward, with Dale Hopson netting the resulting penalty kick.

Avenue had thought they had equalised when Oli Johnson fired a shot into the top corner but celebrations were cut short by an offside flag.

The same assistant referee ended a later Avenue attack as he flagged Dan Pybus offside after the young Bradford City loanee had been sent through by Jamie Spencer.

The visitors were poor at the back, and Blyth took advantage just before the interval when Robbie Dale set-up Jarratt Rivers, with the latter giving Drench no chance with a shot from deep inside the area.

Avenue boss Mark Bower, who was without injured winger Wayne Brooksby, made changes either side of the hour, with Frank Mulhern replacing Pybus and Javan Vidal, Brooksby’s replacement, making way for Adam Smith.

Another huge call went against Avenue soon after as Johnson appeared to be hauled down in the area, only to be shown a yellow card for simulation.

It was not to be Johnson’s day as, following a disallowed strike and a booking for an alleged dive, he was thwarted by a superb save from Spartans keeper Peter Jameson.

The home side put the result beyond any doubt when Dale netted their third with just 13 minutes remaining.

Bower was left confounded by some of the decisions but also critical of his players for not reaching their own high standards.

He said: “I thought they (Blyth) started well but we weathered that initial storm and then go a goal behind to an individual mistake.

“After that I thought we played well and got into some really good areas. Two really, really poor offside decisions went against us when clean through on the keeper - one when (Adam) Boyes was clean through - he was three yards onside and the replays will confirm that.

“Those big calls can be the difference in the big games. They got a contentious penalty decision which neither the referee nor the linesman seemed to want to give but then gave it after a long delay.

“OJ brought down – last man should have been a red card and a penalty or a free-kick and he’s booked him for diving.

"I thought we were very, very unfortunate with some very poor decisions but again we can do more to stop the ball going our net.

“The first two goals we let in were self inflicted, and the third one is when you’re chasing a game late on.”

Salford will be buoyant after a 3-2 win at Alfreton Town meant that they kept their two-point advantage at the summit.