Hopson strikes as Blues sink Mariners

Dale Hopson curls home the decisive goal in Whitby's victory over Marine. Pictures: Brian Murfield

Dale Hopson curls home the decisive goal in Whitby's victory over Marine. Pictures: Brian Murfield

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A Dale Hopson goal saw Whitby Town to a 1-0 home win over Marine in the Evo-Stik Premier Division.

The midfielder’s clinical 58th-minute finish proved decisive as the Blues boosted their survival chances by securing a crucial three points.

The Blues celebrate Dale Hopson's 58th-minute goal

The Blues celebrate Dale Hopson's 58th-minute goal

The combination of a first Town victory in five games and defeat for Hyde United against Ikeston, plus Stamford’s draw with Salford City, saw Chris Hardy’s men climb two places to 20th in the league table, out of the drop zone on goal difference.

Whitby passed the ball nicely from the off, despite the heavy playing surface, with Hopson, back after an injury lay-off, at the heart of much of their good play.

With 11 minutes gone, Marine stopper Matty Cooper handled the ball just outside his penalty area and was booked, Mikey Roberts firing the resulting free-kick over the bar from an inviting position.

Some lovely interplay down the middle of the pitch then afforded Roberts a run in on goal from Anthony Hume’s touch, but having shown great pace to outstrip the visitors’ defence, Town’s number nine hit a fierce strike too close to Cooper who did well to turn the ball behind.

Shane Bland produces a stunning reaction save

Shane Bland produces a stunning reaction save

Although the home side were playing the better football, the Mariners got forward on a number of occasions during the opening quarter of the game and put some dangerous balls into the box.

One swift raid looked like it would end up with striker Danny Mitchley going one-on-one with Shane Bland, only for Jamie Poole to slide in and make a perfectly-timed last-ditch challenge on the edge of his own box.

Hopson then made a run down the left, beating two men and forcing Cooper to save at his near post before Roberts turned on the afterburners to burst in behind for a second time.

Cooper was off his line quickly, however, and got a foot in the way of a tame effort.

Marine went straight down the other end, and from a Lewis Colding centre from the right, Town gloveman Bland showed great reactions to somehow paw away Mitchley’s close-range header that looked to already be past him.

If the Seasiders were to break the deadlock then it looked like it would be through a combination of the influential Hopson and livewire Roberts, and the former picked out the latter in the 42nd minute with a cute dinked pass into the channel.

Roberts was forced to check back on to his right foot on the left side of the area, and with Cooper off his line, he curled high and wide of the far post.

Although it was Town who shaded the first period, the visitors made the brighter start after the resumption, and they should have led after 51 minutes.

James Short showed some good footwork down the left side of the Whitby area before driving a low cross into the six-yard box.

Another timely slide by Poole averted the initial danger as Mitchley shot for goal, but the ball broke perfectly for Charlie Barnett 10 yards out and the Marine man unleashed a powerful effort that was somehow diverted over the bar.

Just three minutes later, the Blues enjoyed another big let-off when right-winger Lewis Codling got to the byline and cut the ball back for an unmarked Chris Sharp to rattle the crossbar from close range.

Blues frontman Anthony Hume then came to life, spinning his marker and lashing one across the face of goal and just wide, but having ridden their luck, Whitby took full advantage, just before the hour-mark.

Kieran Weledji’s over hit cross from the right was kept in by Andy McWilliams on the opposite flank and the ball was worked back to Hopson, just inside the area.

Showing great composure, the former Darlington man curled a low shot around Cooper and into the bottom corner of the net for a precious lead.

The goal visibly lifted the Town players, while it inevitably had the effect of causing the visitors to attack in more urgent fashion.

The Seasiders did not sit back on their lead, however, continuing to play their usual game, but chances for either side were few and far between until the final 10 minutes.

Marine pressed hard, and a moment of indecision between skipper Mark Robinson and Richard Pell saw then leave a bouncing ball to one another just inside their area, allowing substitute Chad Whyte a strike on goal.

Robinson recovered to slide in and block the initial strike and Bland then saved with his leg from Mitchley’s follow-up.

Some solid defending, plus a willingness from Bland to come off his line and claim anything launched into his six-yard box, ensured that the Blues’ lead remained intact.

Indeed it should have been doubled in the last minute of normal time when the hosts broke after Marine over-committed.

Substitute Matty Waters was played in down the left, with just the goalkeeper and one defender to beat.

The flame-haired striker kept a cool head to draw Cooper and then take both Marine players out of the game by squaring to Weledji, who waited eight yards out with a gaping net in front of him.

What followed was one of the worst misses anyone present in the ground is ever likely to witness.

Town’s right wing-back miss-controlled the ball with the goal at his mercy, before substitute Tyler Scarth took over at the back post, firing an effort into the side netting, albeit from a somewhat narrower angle.

As Blues players and fans reeled in disbelief, five minutes of added time were announced and the away side were immediately back on the offensive, looking to make Whitby pay for their profligacy.

More balls into the home box and a series of corners followed, Bland again excelling himself with another impressive parry from a close-range effort.

With seconds of added time remaining, the Seasiders survived a big shout for handball from the travelling contingent before the final whistle brought much relief for all in Blue.

Centre-half Poole was named as the sponsors’ man of the match, while Bland was also in excellent form, making a couple of stunning saves as well as doing the basics brilliantly.

Hopson looked the best player on the pitch in the first half, with skipper Robinson and the tireless Roberts also catching the eye.