The Blues secured their ninth league draw of the season on Saturday as Graeme Armstrong levelled with two minutes left, after Dave McTiernan had earlier seen red in a fiery encounter.
McTiernan was dismissed for aiming a headbutt at Grantham’s Ash Burbeary, who promptly put the Gingerbreads in front, three minutes before half-time.
“I felt the referee was played,” said Blues’ boss Darren Williams. “At times, I think we’re too honest.
“It was a coming together. Kev Burgess was involved with Jamie Jackson on the far side and Jackson throws his hands out. If he’s sent Macca off, he should have sent him off too.”
Williams made four changes from the side that went out of the League Cup to minnows Brigg Town, in midweek, with Burgess and Lee Bullock returning from suspension.
Armstrong and Shane Henry also came in for on-loan striker Chris Dickinson and Williams himself.
The Blues went with three centre-halves and Williams felt it disturbed the visitors early on – “they changed their formation three times in the first half,” he noted.
The Seasiders certainly started strongly.
On 11 minutes, Mark Robinson’s perfectly-weighted through-ball released Steven Snaith, who could only fire wide when one-on-one with keeper Danny Haystead.
Soon after, Snaith tested the ex-Boston stopper again, this time with a ferocious 25-yard effort that the glove-man parried well then tentatively pushed clear as the young forward followed up.
Whitby’s legendary 378-goal record scorer Paul Pitman led the teams out, his first appearance at the Turnbull Ground since his 2001 testimonial with Leeds United and perhaps right-back Ibby Hassan was suitably inspired.
The speedy defender raced forward and directed a 25-yard piledriver towards the top-left corner of the Grantham net, on 15 minutes, only for Haystead to spring to his right and push the ball wide.
Shane Henry then became the latest Blues player to try his luck from distance, the former Guisborough midfielder came the closest too, with his effort from the edge of the box slamming against the Grantham bar, on the half hour. So, with Whitby dominant, it was a huge blow, seconds later, when McTiernan was dismissed following a scuffle near the Blues’ dugout.
A late challenge on the ex-Harrogate man, just inside the Whitby half, resulted in McTiernan thrusting his head forward and Burbeary finished up on the ground.
Referee Simon Hudson quickly pulled out the red card as several players squared up.
Burbeary then twisted the knife with a spectacular strike, just before the break.
The former Worksop talent was able to advance with the ball, 20 yards from goal, and release an unstoppable drive low to Shane Bland’s right, that gave the teenage goalkeeper no chance at all.
Williams kept faith with his forwards, though, leaving two up front and going to four at the back, with three in midfield, following McTiernan’s dismissal.
“Don’t get involved with the referee. Don’t get involved with the opposition”, was the Whitby manager’s message, to his squad, at the interval.
However, Snaith looked fortunate after jumping in on Emeka Nwadike, who himself took out Armstrong, in similar fashion, later in the game.
The young striker took the ball, but had at least one foot off the ground as he flew in – Snaith survived, as the game was became increasingly foul-tempered.
Regardless, it was the away side, despite their one-man advantage, who dropped deep to defend a slender-looking lead for most of the second-half. Armstrong slammed into the side-netting with 15 minutes left, before Burgess was helped off with a foot injury- Nathan Mulligan his replacement, as Bullock dropped into the back four.
Adam Rundle replaced Shane Henry within moments, but after Armstrong tried a Van-Basten-like angled drive, that flew across goal and wide, hopes looked lost and Grantham almost added a second goal.
A rare breakaway from the Lincolnshire outfit saw Jamie McGhee almost take advantage of some lazy defending, but he scuffed across goal from the edge of the area.
Whitby camped in the visitors’ half, winning corner after corner, eventually, with two minutes remaining, left-back Robinson crossed to the far-post where Armstrong did his best Pitman-impression, turning quickly to slam between Haystead and his right-hand post. Cue delirium from a noisy scratching shed and celebrations across the ground. A draw was the least Whitby deserved after a battling performance.
Williams delivered an immediate post-match speech to his players. “I told them on the pitch”, he revealed. “I was chuffed to bits, I couldn’t have asked for any more.”
Whitby Town: Bland, Hassan, Robinson (c), Burgess (Mulligan 77), Pell, McTiernan (s/o 31), Bullock, Mason, Armstrong, Snaith (Dickinson 90), Henry (Rundle 81). Subs not used: Williams, Campbell (GK). Attendance: 278
Match sponsor: The Bay Hotel, Robin Hood’s Bay.
Matchball Sponsor: John Corner Funeral Services. Co-operative Whitby WTFC Man of the Match: Kev Burgess
Whitby Town 1 Grantham 1