WHITBY Town battled back from 2-0 down after half an hour at promotion-chasing Matlock, to grab a well-deserved draw on their Derbyshire bogey ground, on Saturday.
Manager Tommy Cassidy made two enforced changes with Joe Cornforth’s neck injury and Chris Batchelor’s groin strain ruling them out.
In came 20-year-old midfielder Sam Hodgson and Ashley Lyth, who returned from a one-match suspension. Striker Andy Campbell again missed out.
The signs looked ominous pre-match with skipper Tony Hackworth and highly-rated defender Ibby Hassan both rated as injury doubts. However, both recovered enough to start the game, which began poorly for Cassidy’s men.
With only seven minutes on the clock, keeper Dave Campbell could only parry Lee Morris’ powerful low drive and Nathan Joynes react quickest to poke home off the inside of a post.
Matlock’s centre-half skipper James Lukic almost doubled their lead, nodding over at the far post as the Gladiators dominated with all the ferocity of their Roman namesakes.
Indecision from Campbell then saw a near post cross pass over the veteran keeper and Kev Burgess had to slide in to deny Morris.
But the half hour mark saw the hosts go further ahead as Campbell couldn’t hold on again, this time from John McAliskey’s header. The 40-year-old fumbled and Morris rushed in to extravagantly blast the ball into the roof of the net from point blank range.
Moments later, Campbell once again hesitated from a deep cross but redeemed himself with a brilliant point-blank save from Morris. The blue tide continued and Steve Warne skipped his way past a number of players but shot from a difficult angle after dribbling along the byline from the left, finally hooking high and wide.
Morris then repeated the trick almost identically, only to curl a seemingly goalbound effort against the crossbar with Campbell beaten.
This turned out to be a huge turning point as Whitby reduced the arrears seconds later.
With five minutes of the half remaining, Hackworth nodded down for Dave McTiernan to take a touch before side-footing home from the right edge of the area.
This seemed to lift the visitors who finished the half on top. The tricky Leon Scott was grabbed around the waist by right-back Kris Witcombe in injury time.
This gave opposite number Ashley Lyth the chance to curl in an inswinging free-kick from the left touchline 20 yards from goal. Lyth did just that and there was Jimmy Beadle, at the far post, to head into the bottom left corner, making it 2-2 with his 12th goal of the season.
Far from clinging on for a point, Cassidy’s side pushed on for the second half, sensing a chance to take all three.
Early on, Scott tested former Scarborough keeper Adam Sollitt with a neat volley from 20 yards that the 33-year-old held well.
At the other end, Ryan Mallon’s free-kick beat the wall but only had the pace to loop comfortably into Campbell’s hands. Scott then brought a top-class full length save from Sollitt with a ferocious low drive from the edge of the box.
However, Matlock remained dangerous and looked set to regain the lead on 65 minutes.
But despite his six foot five frame, McAliskey couldn’t get on top of Warne’s right-wing cross and nodded over with an open goal yawning in front of him.
The Seasiders threatened again in the last quarter of an hour, when Hackworth again showed his worth, heading down for Beadle to slam inches wide from 20 yards.
Moments later, as Whitby really battled for every ball, the pressure told and Andy Leeson regained possession, but sent a speculative, almost token, lob too high to worry Sollitt.
Six minutes from time, Campbell made up for his earlier errors, getting out quickly to block with his legs one on one from Liam King, after the ex-Rotherham midfielder got round Burgess for the first time.
Whitby refused to give up and had strong appeals for a penalty turned down late on when Beadle was obstructed as he entered the area.
Cassidy was disappointed with the officials, who infuriated the visitors by missing numerous offences.
He told the Whitby Gazette: “I don’t normally get annoyed but some of his decisions were diabolical,
“I dont want to take anything away from our performance though.”
“I was concerned when they went 2-0 up, but I just thought the way we came back was absolutely magnificent.”
The former Workington boss was delighted with the whole side but especially those who played through injuries, adding: “Ibby [Hassan] was magnificent at centre half - the boy can certainly play in a higher division and Hacky [Tony Hackworth] was only maybe 50% fit, but he pushed himself right to the limit and I admire him for that.”
Cassidy also paid tribute to his unrelenting midfield engine room.
“Sam’s [Hodgson] only a young boy. I thought he did very well, it was his best game for the club.
“And what you see from Andy [Leeson] is what you get. He works extremely hard and can play right back, midfield, right wing or up front and hes a very important player to me.”
Whitby Town: Campbell, Lyth, White, Hassan, Burgess, Hodgson, McTiernan, Leeson, Hackworth(c), Beadle, Scott. Subs not used: Southern, Lambert, Davis. Attendance: 340