Whitby Town returned to the top 10 after their third successive win, this time against Stafford Rangers, on Saturday.
Town also extended their unbeaten run over hosts Stafford Rangers to five matches with a commited display in trying conditions.
“It was very difficult to play on that pitch,” said player-manager Darren Williams.
“But we stuck to our task, played when we were able to and made correct decisions.
“I said if we have to win ugly, then we’ll do that,” he said.
Williams picked an unchanged starting XI for the fourth game running, with Dave McTiernan returning from a three-match suspension and Craig Farrell from a groin injury lay-off to make up a strong subs’ bench.
In a cagey opening, Lee Mason saw his angled 12-yard shot slid off the Rangers goal-line by Darren Chadwick, while James McCarthy headed well wide at the other end.
On a heavy surface, it was no surprise that it took a direct effort to open the scoring. Blues grabbed the lead on 17 minutes when Mason’s deep left-wing corner was nodded back across goal and inside keeper Jon Brain’s right-hand post by big Richard Pell. It was the towering centre-half’s second strike in as many games.
Town then suffered a hammer blow as Williams, who has been a revelation in front of the Blues’ backline, had to be helped off the field by physio Kenny Bolton, inside the first half-hour.
Williams later revealed he’d suffered a torn thigh.
“It is what it is,” he said.
“I’ve torn my calf before and it was four to six weeks out, but then you look at the bench and think what strength in depth we have, with some of our best players on there.”
This was illustrated as Tom Portas replaced his manager in the centre of midfield.
Soon after, 17-goal top scorer Graeme Armstrong chipped onto the top of the net from the right-edge of the penalty area, while Jack Lees then sent an off-balance effort off target from identical range after running at Mark Robinson and cutting in from the right flank.
Armstrong then brushed off Stafford’s left-back Tom Morris before poking inches wide of the near post.
In first-half injury time, Chadwick almost poked Ibby Hassan’s driven cross into his own net as Town dominated.
The Seasiders began the second half as they ended the first and doubled their advantage within two minutes of the restart.
Armstrong forced Brain to fend away a powerful low drive, only for Shane Henry to follow up and fire home his fourth goal of the season.
Former Conference side Stafford attempted to fire back as Lees drilled wide from 18 yards and Dan Cope’s shot on the turn was comfortably held by Shane Bland.
The teenage keeper then parried Chadwick’s near-post header and safely clutched Lees’ scuffed shot from the resulting corner.
Farrell replaced Snaith, with twenty minutes remaining and moments later, fired over the bar from the edge of the box after collecting Adam Rundle’s left-wing cutback.
Armstrong then tricked his way into the six-yard box, after gliding in from the left touchline before misfiring across goal, but wide.
The Blues came even closer with 12 minutes left. Mason’s left-wing corner was flicked goalwards by the head of Lee Bullock, with the ball grazing the home crossbar.
Williams rested Henry late on, with McTiernan taking his place and the ex-Harrogate man should really have added a third goal, ten minutes from time.Farrell released Armstrong who squared for the long-serving winger to go clear one-on-one with Brain, who saved with his legs.
Stafford finally fashioned some pressure right at the end and Lees should have pulled a goal back on 88 minutes.
The pacey ex-Tamworth striker raced in on goal, but Bland emulated his opposite number, blocking well to secure his third clean sheet in four games.
Williams was delighted to see Portas – recently returned from injury himself – avoid any ill-effects after his hour on the field.
“Tom was a bit tight,” he mused. “But it bodes well, we’ve a good set-up at the moment.”
Stafford Rangers: Brain, Bateman, Morris, Chadwick, Bullock, Davies, McCarthy (Griffiths 77), Burke, Cope (Healy 72), Kinsella (Mooney 52), Lees. Subs not used: West, Curtis.
Whitby Town: Bland, Hassam, Robinson (c), Bullock, Pell, Williams (Portas 28), Henry (McTiernan 80), Mason, Armstrong, Snaith (Farrell 67), Rundle. Subs not used: Burgess, D Campbell (GK).
Stafford Rangers 0 Whitby Town 2