DESPITE leading 2-0 at half-time against high-flying Chorley, Whitby had to settle for a point after a gripping game on Saturday, writes Andrew Snaith.
Player-manager Darren Williams made two changes from the side that drew 3-3 against Stocksbridge in midweek, with Dave McTiernan on long-term injury leave and teenager Callum Martin taking his place, as Town returned to a 4-4-2 formation.
Williams’ assistant Dave Campbell made way in goal for 24-year-old Tom Courtney.
Early on, it was Courtney’s opposite number Russ Saunders under pressure, as the Seasiders took a shock lead inside two minutes.
Ashley Lyth’s free-kick was cleared only as far as Jimmy Beadle, who repeated his feat of Wednesday night by half-volleying over the keeper and into the net, from fully 40 yards.
Moments later and Jeff Smith’s driven free-kick from near the byline, just to the left of the six-yard box, was clutched low to his right by the former Wigan keeper. At the other end, Jamie Vermiglio’s run and awkward skidding drive across goal was pushed wide by Courtney, taking no chances on the wet surface.
However, Town could’ve doubled their lead on 18 minutes when Smith’s left-wing cross glanced off the top of a defender’s head but was nodded over point-blank by Jamie Clark, who was waiting just behind. But the veteran marksman made amends within seconds when Martin’s mishit free-kick from the same flank was deflected into the box by a swinging Chorley leg and Clarke reacted quickest, from close range, to turn his first Whitby goal past Saunders.
Dramatically, he almost got his second moments later as Saunders somehow managed to fend away another header from under the crossbar, following a long throw from the left. Optimistic penalty appeals from the grounded Adam Roscoe were waved away before another Whitby attack saw Martin beat the offside trap, cut in from the right and blast narrowly over the top, from the edge of the box.
As the Magpies, who defeated leaders Northwich 3-1 days earlier, finally woke up, Tom Portas was first in the referee’s notebook for a badly-timed sliding challenge on Steve Foster. But fourth-placed Chorley did look odds on to reduce the arrears just before the half-hour. Roscoe found acres of space down the left and squared for Dale Whitham, who may have looked accusingly at the pitch, after blasting over the crossbar when one-on-one with Courtney from three yards.
The off-balance Roscoe then scuffed wide, after Whitham turned provider on the edge of the 18-yard box, with Whitby then coming close to going in three goals ahead. Eleven minutes before half-time, Beadle fired goalwards from 30 yards, with Andy Appleby touching the ball inches past Saunders’ right-hand post.
Appleby, a recent acquisition from Northern League Crook, did have the ball in the net soon after, but was penalised for backing into Saunders with the Chorley defence nowhere to be seen.
Chorley celebrated the 25th anniversary of their FA Cup giant-killing of four-time winners Wolves last Friday and they’d need that same spirit to get back into this game. Their manager, ex-Blackburn and Manchester City midfielder Garry Flitcroft- made a number of changes at the break, including the removal of elder brother Steve, but it was the Seasiders who almost put the game to bed with the first chance of the second half. Saunders found himself in no man’s land as defender Wayne Maden slipped chasing a lofted ball and Clarke was left one-on-one with the keeper, but he could only lob narrowly high and wide, from 18 yards.
Town were almost punished within three minutes when Roscoe’s vicious first-time half-volley dipped just wide, but as the hosts came more into the game, winning successive corners, their inevitable breakthrough arrived.
This time it was a free-kick as Foster went down just in from the right touchline, Tom Ince’s cross was headed against the crossbar by skipper Andy Teague, only for Maden to force home at the back post.
With Chorley tails up, and Town beginning to tire, Vermiglio then found space in the Whitby box but slammed over the top. Seconds later, Courtney pushed Chris Denham’s goalbound header round his near post.
But the hosts soon levelled. Martin had begun a slalom run, beating three players before being tackled just outside the area, the ball was then knocked long by Ince, over the Whitby backline for Foster to beat Courtney to the ball and chip home.
With 12 minutes left, Matty Tymon replaced Clarke and Town briefly regained the initiative. Within seconds, Martin chested down and fired a well-struck effort just over the top, then Beadle hammered a ferocious 18-yard shot that Saunders did well to hold.
A neat move on the edge of the Chorley box then culminated in Smith’s shot being charged down, with the Town fans urging him to shoot, as he twisted this way and that. Andy Leeson replaced Martin as Williams looked to ensure at least a share of the spoils, with three minutes of normal time remaining.
Teague headed Ince’s deep free-kick into the side netting, before Town had a chance to go back in front a minute into added time. Tymon controlled well just outside the home area, taking his time before forcing Saunders to throw himself left and smother the ball well.
With a nerve-jangling six minutes of injury time announced, Chorley thought they’d won it, three minutes in.
A deep cross from the left was turned back across the face of goal by Roscoe where Foster’s drive was cleared by Mark Robinson, straddling the goal-line, as the home crowd celebrated what they thought was a goal. As play went on, Maden’s shot on the turn struck Beadle and Courtney was able to collect.
Speaking after the game, Williams was pleased with his side’s display: “I thought the lads were fantastic, first half.
“I thought we did really well, thought we worked really hard - it was quite honestly disappointing not to come in 3-0 up at half-time.”
The former Sunderland star felt his team tired as the game went on and didn’t offer the same attacking threat after the break.
“We knew that we had to weather a bit of a storm, [but it was] maybe a disappointing second goal to concede. It could’ve been avoided with a few things that went on.
“All in all, before we set off, we’d have settled for a point at Chorley, but because we did so well, we’re disappointed.”
Whitby Town: Courtney, Lyth, Robinson (c), Burgess, White, Portas, Beadle, Martin (Leeson 87), Appleby, Clarke (Tymon 78), Smith. Subs not used: Williams, Blackford, Hassan. Attendance: 657.