Sheffield FC 2 Spalding United 1: RICHARD Scott lamented both the referee and his players as the ten-man Tulips were forced to swallow another bitter pill on Tuesday night.
The Spalding United boss felt his side were denied the clearest of penalties while trailing 1-0, then watched on as keeper Jamie Brassington was needlessly sent off in the second half.
Strikes in either half from Callum Harrison and Matt Roney put Sheffield in command of the clash, but Jon Jones’ late strike did spark an ultimately fruitless fightback from a severely depleted Tulips side towards the end.
And with just 12 Evo-Stik League First Division South points on the board from 23 games, Scott admits his side are now fighting for their status as a step four team.
He said: “Where do I start? It’s hard to accept not being given a penalty when the referee has given a foul and the sliding tackle has left clear skidmarks two yards inside the box.
“If we get that at 1-0 down, we’re right back in the game. But a moment of madness from Jamie Brassington has cost us dear.
“I didn’t see it, but the lads tell me he kicked out at a player, which isn’t good enough.
“Once again we matched a team but were made to pay for errors at both ends, we have to cut it out – and soon.
“We must focus on staying in this league. There are five teams in and around us at the bottom and we have to aim to win that mini-league.
“The aim for the season was to finish outside of the bottom two – that remains the case.
“I want us to stay up on merit. That’s something the club has failed to do recently and would mark progress.”
The Tulips rocked up to the home of the world’s oldest football club well short of numbers.
Callum Earls and Tony Onokah (both injured) were sidelined, along with Andrew Tidswell, Josh Fuller, David de Oliveira, Daniel Westwood and Tom Maydew (all unavailable).
Also missed was Mark Gray, who has been a rock in the heart of Spalding’s defence since joining on loan from Grimsby. He has injured a groin and will now return to the Mariners – with a Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field return looking unlikely.
Danny Steadman was in for a debut though – and he combined beautifully with fellow ex-Grantham Town man Garath Pritchard on a number of occasions.
Mark Webb had a goal ruled out for offside before Harrison’s free header gave the hosts a 25th minute lead.
Then came the flashpoint of the game, with Andy White crudely brought down as he sped into the area. A foul was given – but three yards outside the box.
To add to the Tulips’ woes, White was forced off after the break with an ankle injury and Jones slammed a stunning 40-yard effort off the post.
Perhaps typically, Sheffield replied with a sucker punch as Roney bundled the ball into the net just before the hour – with Brassington given his marching orders in the aftermath.
The industrious Jones did pull one back with a neat finish following a super set of interchanges between Pritchard and Steadman.
But an equaliser wasn’t forthcoming – meaning the Tulips now turn their attention to Saturday’s daunting trip to Newcastle Town (3pm).
The third-placed side haven’t lost a league game all season, while Spalding are without a win on the road.
Scott is hopeful that virus victims Fuller and Westwood will be back in the fold, but he will again be without Tidswell and Earls.
Portuguese midfielder de Oliveira is also likely to return to the fold, but he requires surgery in February.
Tulips: Brassington, Evans, Cormack, Steadman, Pawson, Crawford, Whiteman (Penny 84), Jones, Pritchard, Webb (Flintoft 60), White (Binns 46).
Tulips’ man of the match: Gary Pawson.
Tuesday – Shepshed Dynamo v Tulips (7.45pm).