CRAIG Farrell’s second goal in as many games meant Whitby Town returned with a deserved point from the league’s southern-most club on Saturday.
However, despite pegging back the NPL’s then-12th-placed side, the Blues dropped into the bottom four after a surprise win for rivals Frickley over high-flying Hednesford Town.
Player-manager Darren Williams added himself to the midfield in place of the suspended Dave McTiernan, as Whitby adopted a 4-3-3 formation against opponents noted for their direct style.
The Walsall outfit did little to contradict their ‘kick and Rush’-all tag when they took the lead from a set-piece within six minutes.
However, some fine play on the break seconds earlier, left the Midlands men two-on-two, only for on-loan Town defender Arjun Purewal to intercept and concede a corner. The resulting Jon Haynes delivery, from the right, was nodded past Nick Liversedge at his near post by stooping skipper Wayne Daniel.
Haynes wasn’t happy to merely supply the goals, as the left-back tested Liversedge from 25 yards, the keeper doing well to smother the ball, as Town showed signs of losing ground themselves under home pressure.
But unlike at Ilkeston, three weeks earlier, when Blues went two goals down inside 10 minutes, the visitors held out and should have levelled when the unmarked Williams headed Craig James’ free-kick wide, from a great position.
Shane Henry forced Chris Gemmell to save with his legs from an angled drive, after good work from Tom Portas, while at the other end, Liversedge parried Michael Clarke’s near-post downward header.
Whitby ended the half strongly with Farrell firing over after a lung-busting run from Ibby Hassan and Henry making Gemmell fend away another goalbound effort, on the run.
The golden chance then fell to Nathan Mulligan, during the single minute of first-half injury time. The ball dropped kindly, six yards out, for Town’s leading scorer, who seemed surprised and sent a tame shot on the turn straight at Gemmell.
Williams admitted he was disappointed with his team’s composure and revealed his half-time team-talk involved him asking the players to “just keep the ball and get a little bit closer as well”, adding: “there were times I was running past players to close people down, which was disappointing, as it isn’t really us.”
The second half saw a much-more familiar-looking style from the Seasiders, with lots of short passing and a much-quicker tempo.
Williams thought it should have paid dividends within a minute of the restart when Graeme Armstrong claimed to be pushed in the back as he headed over Mulligan’s right-wing cross.
“I thought it was a penalty”, insisted the Blues boss.
“I don’t think the referee took up the best position to see it, but I was really happy with the way we started the second half.”
Understandably so, as Farrell’s diagonal drive had Gemmell scrambling to hold the ball in damp conditions.
Though, Neil Kitching’s men were always a threat – Joel Purkiss fired across the face of goal from the edge of the box and substitute Ahmed Obeng should have done better after beating the stranded Liversedge to a loose ball, only to chip wide of an open goal.
Kitching and his side were made to rue the miss as Town levelled within two minutes after showing the composure their manager demanded.
James’ long ball out of defence was spilled just inside his area by Gemmell and Farrell was perfectly placed to sidefoot calmly into the unguarded net.
In the aftermath, Ashley Corker replaced Armstrong and the Blues went to 4-4-2. They continued to dominate possession, though, if anything, over-played at times, with passes going astray and players reluctant to shoot for goal.
Williams seemed to agree, blaming wrong decisions at wrong times.
“I think we should’ve won the game,” he said. “Maybe our decision-making in the final third was a bit off, maybe we should have driven into space a little quicker and sharper and given ourselves the chance to roll in Craig Farrell.”
But it could have been worse as Danny Bragoli’s 76th-minute piledriver rocked Liversedge’s left-hand post and in five minutes of injury time, another forward sub, Dave Walker, drilled just wide from 25 yards.
Williams said: “You have off-days. There were opportunities where we shot from distance, when realistically we could’ve rolled a fellow player in, in a better position.”
To illustrate the head coach’s point, Henry fired straight at Gemmell from the edge of the hosts’ box, late on.
Whitby Town: Liversedge, Hassan, Robinson (c), James, Purewal, Williams (Tait 74), Portas, Henry, Farrell, Armstrong (Corker 66), Mulligan (Snaith 88). Subs not used: White, Campbell (GK)
* THERE is a Christmas dominoes drive in the clubhouse on Friday night (21 Dec) at 8pm.
On Thursday (27 Dec), the club house hosts an open forum, for supporters to talk to committee members, which gets under way at 7.30pm.
The debate will be followed by Claire and Steve’s monthly quiz.
A week on Saturday (29 Dec), Whitby have a league match at Chorley, with a bus leaving at 9.15am.
Rushall Olympic 1 Whitby Town 1