DAVE McTiernan’s decisive goal helped Whitby to a comfortable victory over relegation rivals Nantwich Town on Saturday, putting the Blues four points clear of the Evo-Stik Premier dropzone, writes Andrew Snaith.
Manager Tommy Cassidy described it as “an essential three points” against a visiting side managed by fellow Belfast-born boss Jimmy Quinn.
Cassidy had the luxury of a fully-fit side to choose from and welcomed back former Middlesbrough marksman Andy Campbell for his first appearance in nearly a month. Youngster Sam Hodgson returned to the bench as Jimmy Beadle slotted back into midfield.
But Beadle and Whitby were on the attack inside five minutes as skipper Tony Hackworth’s right-wing cross was headed across goal by Beadle but against Dan Platt’s left-hand post, with the visiting keeper beaten.
The same combination then saw Hackworth hold the ball up with his back to goal, on the edge of the box, enabling Beadle to run on and strike a low checked drive that Platt clutched comfortably to his right.
But the Whitby pressure finally told on 18 minutes when Campbell used his experience to slip marker Charlie Reeves and fire past Platt, despite the keeper getting a firm glove on the ball.
Moments later, big centre-half Rod McDonald held onto Hackworth and Leon Scott’s left-footed free-kick from the fringes of the area, curled just over.
Within seconds, McDonald repeated the dose, this time on Scott, who took the free-kick from near the right touchline himself. However, the ex-Harrogate Town man’s vicious whipped ball was eventually hooked clear.
Despite this setback, Whitby supporters had just five minutes to wait between goals. Scott’s deflected free-kick found its way through to Beadle as the Dabbers’ hapless defence stepped up too late and the former York City midfielder sidefooted home his 13th - and easiest - goal of the season.
At the other end, keeper Dave Campbell, on his 451st appearance for the Blues, almost gifted the visitors a goal back on the half-hour.
Campbell, who made two costly errors at Matlock last week, looked to have comfortably caught a high ball, only to let it slip out of his grasp while on the floor but saved well at the feet of Kyle Blake following up.
A largely uninspiring second half saw the Blues intersperse some neat interplay with a few too many misplaced long passes. One moment of joy for much of the crowd saw local lad Chris Batchelor introduced with 12 minutes remaining. The hard-working Scott made way in a straight swap on the left wing.
Within three minutes, Batchelor’s corner had brought the third and decisive Whitby goal. The former Pickering Town wide man’s outswinging cross brought a period of head tennis as Nantwich struggled to clear and McTiernan popped up at the far post to nod home neatly.
But was there to be a sting in the tail as the Cheshire side - decked in yellow and black flew forward and pulled a goal back within two minutes?
Substitute Sam Aspinwall beat the Blues’ optimistic offside trap and drove past the onrushing Campbell, whose palm could only help loop the ball upwards and into the empty net.
However, Whitby comfortably saw off any danger with the Blues’ own Andy Leeson - with a shot on the turn from 20 yards - coming as close as anyone to increasing the scoring.
After the match, Cassidy refused to get carried away describing his side’s display as “a decent performance.”
The former Northern Ireland international added: “We were the better side in the first half but the second was about even.”
Cassidy had asked for seven points from the Blues’ three home games in a week, but after picking up six from two, he joked the target had now changed to nine.
He also paid tribute to one of his “forgotten” players: “Andy Leeson in that midfield role is sometimes forgotten but he was magnificent, along with Ibby Hassan.
“At 2-0, the next goal is vital and luckily we got it, so full credit to our boys, they’ve been brilliant and it’s now in our hands.
“I’d say they all got seven or eight out of 10 today.”
Whitby Town: D Campbell, Lyth, White, Hassan, Burgess, Leeson, McTiernan, Hackworth (c), A Campbell, Beadle, Scott (Batchelor 78). Subs not used: Cornforth, Hodgson, Lambert, Courtney (GK).
Co-operative Whitby WTFC man of the match: Jimmy Beadle
Match sponsor: The Bay Hotel, Robin Hood’s Bay; matchball sponsor: Paul Whiteley
Whitby Town 3 Nantwich Town 1