Whitby Town 1 Chorley 1
The Blues threw Chorley’s title ambitions into doubt after a dominant second-half display culminating in Graeme Armstrong’s deserved leveller on Easter Saturday.
The Magpies still had matters in their own hands going into Monday’s game with Marine, though Whitby manager Darren Williams thought his side could have gone one better and grabbed the win.
“Anyone who didn’t know would’ve thought we were the top team,” Williams told the Whitby Gazette.
“We were the better footballing side overall. They couldn’t live with us when we started playing properly.”
The Blues boss made three changes from the side that beat Buxton 1-0 in midweek, with Steven Snaith replacing fellow forward Craig Farrell, Adam Rundle in for Lee Mason on the right wing and Shane Henry returning at the expense of on-loan Zak Boagey on the left.
In a cagey opening, Chorley’s shaven-headed target man James Dean and midfielder Josh Hine took turns to launch a number of tame efforts over the crossbar or straight at Shane Bland in the first nine minutes.
At the other end, Rundle could only pick out Bland’s opposite number, Sam Ashton, from the edge of the box, for the hosts, after Ibby Hassan tigerishly won two centre-circle slide challenges and played the ex-Darlington winger in.
Rundle then hooked over, on the turn, from similiar range, seconds later.
However, the championship-chasers opened the scoring midway through the first half as Max Cartwright’s right-wing corner was nodded in off the far post by big centre-half Andy Teague, who beat Bland in the air.
Darren Williams’ words at half-time seemed to work though as Town levelled within three minutes of the restart.
“I said to the lads, over the course of the season, there are no better football teams in the league than us, though Chorley are the most consistent.” Williams revealed.
“With the exception of the Droylsden game [a 13-1 win], Chorley’s games have been very close, winning by the odd goal, they’ve had to grind games out.”
That was the case on Saturday as Town quickly evened things up in the second half.
Hassan’s right-wing ball for Rundle saw the ex-Darlington winger beat keeper Sam Ashton near the byline and square for Armstrong to force home with his chest.
The same combination almost paid dividends for Town 10 minutes later as they broke quickly after Cartwright sliced a free-kick wide for the visitors. But this time, 27-goal Armstrong turned over the top, first-time, from the edge of the penalty area.
The away side, backed by over 100 travelling supporters, with bus travel subsidised by their club, then demanded a penalty as the ball struck Kev Burgess on the arm in the box, though the Town defender knew little about the contact, with his arms remaining roughly by his side.
Hassan then almost delighted the home fans with a swashbuckling run and explosive shot that flew inches over the top from fully 30 yards.
With 10 minutes left, Mason was on for Whitby down the right, for Henry and soon after, Armstrong drilled an awkward low free-kick through a clutch of players but Ashton held well.
Despite strong Whitby pressure, the Lancastrians could have snatched it with four minutes remaining. Dean broke at pace and laid off for the unmarked Darren Stephenson only for Bland to race off his line to block with his legs and Stephenson blazed over the rebound. Mason did likewise in injury time at the other end, when off-balance from 18 yards.
Williams paid tribute to his side’s upturn in form since four successive defeats effectively ended their play-off hopes.
Town then lost just once in five and that defeat occurred when they controversially ended the game at Matlock with just nine men.
“I think we’ve had a positive reaction,” Williams concluded. “Everyone’s done well, we’ve not done a Newcastle and packed our bags and got on the plane effectively.” he said. “Kev Burgess has been like a new signing after his injury. With his drive and will to win, he’s a leader too.” he added.
Whitby Town: Bland, Hassan, Robinson (c), Burgess, Bullock, McTiernan, Portas, Rundle (Mulligan 87), Snaith, Armstrong (Farrell 85), Henry (Mason 79). Subs not used: Boagey, Pell.
Co-operative Whitby WTFC man of the match: Steven Snaith.