“Just crazy” was the verdict of Whitby player-boss Darren Williams after his side surrendered a 3-0 lead to go down 5-4 in a bizarre encounter at the Turnbull Ground on Saturday.
The Blues also lost defender Kevin Burgess after two yellow cards in as many minutes late on, during a match that featured two penalties, nine goals and prevented Whitby from taking advantage of the four teams nearest them all losing.
The big shock pre-match was the return of goalkeeper Nick Liversedge, who left last February to join Jarrow Roofing in the Northern League First Division. There was also a first start for teenage forward Jordan Hugill, as Andy Appleby was unavailable and Tom Courtney dropped to the bench- otherwise it was the same side that beat Ashton United 2-1 in midweek.
It seemed the hosts were starting where they left off in Greater Manchester as Hugill curled just over from the edge of the box inside the first minute. Then a great through-ball from Jeff Smith released Matty Tymon, whose low drive was saved with his legs by keeper Jon Brain and whose header was just too high from the resulting corner.
But the early pressure paid off when Smith’s driven free-kick was spilled by Brain and the wiry Hugill was on hand to tap home from close range. So it was with considerable disappointment that the youngster, who recently returned from a spell at an Academy in Spain, had to limp off with a twinge in his knee on 16 minutes. Assistant manager Dave Campbell admitted the coaching team wanted a longer look at the ex-Seaham striker, originally from Hemlington and that his loss could’ve had some bearing on the game.
However, the Seasiders’ attacking options looked far from depleted when they doubled their lead midway through the first half. More good work from Smith saw the winger, previously with Darlington, pick out another former Quaker in Burgess, for an emphatic 10-yard header past Brain.
Just three minutes passed before the second-bottom Blues added a third. This time it was the versatile Andy Leeson, on for Hugill, who reacted quickest to a loose ball in a crowded box, to fire across goal and inside the far post.
Leeson then executed a neat backheel to set up Smith, who sidefooted an angled drive narrowly wide, as the rampant hosts looked to notch four goals in a match, for the first time since April. Four minutes before half-time, 11th-placed Nantwich, who had only Sean Cooke’s off-target half-volley to show so far, finally got into the game.
Whitby were left fuming after referee Stuart Campbell accidentally got in the way as Smith lined up a shot, only for the visitors to surge to the other end and win a corner. Liversedge’s punch was ungainly and only picked out ex-Leek schemer Dave McPherson, whose scuffed first-time hook goalwards from the edge of the area, found its way into the net for a sloppy reply.
Williams claimed it was a happy dressing room at the break- the Blues’ chief said he warned his players that opposite number Jimmy Quinn would be giving out “a rollicking” to his charges next door and “they’d come out fighting” but to no avail. The former Sunderland star blasted his team afterwards claiming: “It was like eleven players from the first half had gone off and we’d put eleven different players on.”
His assistant accused some players of thinking the game was over at half-time, adding: “In the second half, we gave them encouragement because we didn’t do what we’d been doing, we didn’t retain possession or clear the ball well. You want to miss out their centre-halves so the defence are running towards goal which gives you a breather and gets you out of your half. Everything we did, didn’t come off- it was intercepted, poor or in the wrong place.”
The second period began ominously just two minutes in as Simon Everall hooked over Cooke’s right-wing cross from point blank range and seconds later, Cooke himself drilled a 20-yard free-kick through a flimsy Whitby wall and inches wide of Liversedge’s left-hand post.
At the other end, in a frenetic opning, Tymon laid off for Jimmy Beadle to force Brain into a full-length push wide from just outside the box.
On the hour, came a turning point as Quinn introduced ten-goal top-scorer Ben Mills, tights and all, alongside Tom Urwin for Everall and Brian Summerskill. Within moments, Nantwich were right back in the contest- it wasn’t Mills, but McPherson, who netted for a second time, after following up Liversedge’s great save from Cooke’s shot with the perfect diving header.
At 3-2, it was a different game and by now all Cheshire pressure, with the away side swarming forward like wasps in their yellow and black stripes. Just three minutes later, the scores were level when Smith’s inexplicable headed back-pass from the centre circle was seized upon by Michael Lennon who rounded Liversedge and just about managed to square for Cooke to poke home from under the crossbar.
The Dabbers had a chance to take the lead when Liversedge got into a tangle with his defence, as both players left it for each other, only for Cooke’s similiar indecision to enable a desperate Whitby clearance. But they were simply delaying the inevitable as Nantwich led for the first time with sixteen minutes remaining and who else but McPherson was on hand to fire confidently past Liversedge, for his hat-trick.
At this point, the hosts woke up and Leeson’s determined run was halted by Brain as he passed the ball and referee Campbell allowed Tymon’s shot from the left edge of the box to be charged down before pointing to the penalty spot. After blazing over from 12 yards in Whitby’s last home game against Stocksbridge, skipper Mark Robinson handed Beadle the ball and the 23-year-old talisman poked into the roof of the net for 4-4.
With eleven minutes left, few thought that was an end to the scoring and so it proved when the referee’s assistant flagged for a harsh-looking handball, after Burgess was struck on the goal-line. Cooke stepped up to stroke the ball straight down the middle from the penalty spot and send the half dozen travelling supporters huddled around a green and white flag and yet to see an away win since September, into delirium- helped by their substitutes running a half-circuit of the pitch.
No-doubt infuriated by the award, Burgess shoved McPherson to the ground as he refused to give up the ball to Robinson in the aftermath. The Blues’ number-five was fortunate to only recieve a yellow card- with McPherson joining him in the book for time-wasting.
Williams threw on Billy Blackford for his first appearance in six games, replacing Callum Martin on the right wing, with 85 minutes on the clock. He immediately pushed forward, bravely beating Rod McDonald in the air to release Leeson who looked to have levelled the scores, but managed to toe-end agonisingly wide from close range.
Burgess was clearly still wound up and when he slid in late on Cooke, the youngster stayed down long enough for the inevitable red card to come out, before making a similiar Lazarus-esque recovery to his team.
Campbell, currently sidelined from his on-field role by a stomach muscle pull, fumed: “For the neutral it must’ve been an absolutely fantastic game to watch, but from our point of view, it was absolutely ridiculous.
“It’s so frustrating to see people be told one thing and do something completely different.
“I think it’s a lack of effort from some- you’re going to get nervous at 3-2, but you’ve just got to roll your sleeves up, get on with it and keep doing what you’ve been doing.”
Williams revealed he’d be studying video footage of the game in order to highlight where it all went wrong but the felt all the goals could’ve been prevented and again refused to rule out new additions to his developing squad.
He added: “We cant keep conceding the goals we concede.
“We conceded goals from mistakes and errors, more than anything and that needs to be put right.
“If you score four goals at home, you expect to win the game and we haven’t done that.”
Whitby Town: Liversedge, Lyth, Robinson(c), White, Burgess, Portas, Martin(Blackford 85), Beadle, Hugill(Leeson 16), Tymon, Smith. Subs not used: Hassan, Williams, Courtney(GK).
Co-operative Whitby WTFC Man of the Match: Tom Portas
Match Sponsor: Stonehouse Bakery & Tea Shop. 3 Briar Hill, Danby, YO21 2LZ, also Station Square, Saltburn and Market Square, Loftus.
Matchball Sponsor: The Kaye Family from Ripponden