Whitby Town shut out giant former Football League striker Dele Adebola and his in-form Rushall team-mates to remain in the play-off hunt.
Darren Williams’ men drop to tenth but remain just two points shy of fifth-placed AFC Fylde.
A 13th league draw of the season sees the Blues once-again installed as the NPL Premier’s tie specialists but Williams insisted it was a good point.
“Overall a point was probably a worthy result for both teams.” he said.
“Either side could’ve nicked the game – both are on really good runs- it was always going to be tight.”
Williams picked an unchanged starting XI following last week’s 2-2 draw with league leaders Skelmersdale United, though fit-again centre-half Kev Burgess replaced Williams himself among the substitutes.
On a heavy pitch that narrowly passed a morning pitch inspection, the Blues could have led inside seven minutes. Richard Pell’s long clearance found the onrushing Steven Snaith, but the teenager miscontrolled and home keeper Chris Gemmell smothered the ball.
Rushall then surged to the other end, winning a free-kick that sliced up off the Blues’ defensive wall enabling Liam Spink to force Shane Bland into a point-blank parry at his near post. On 18 minutes, Town skipper Mark Robinson sent over a trademark deep cross from the left which was headed back across goal and inches wide of Gemmell’s right-hand post by the towering Graeme Armstrong.
The in-form Walsall side then saw their talisman striker Adebola turn well on the edge of the Blues box and only a tremendous goal-line header clear from Lee Bullock denied the 38-year-old a goal. Josh Craddock’s speculative 20-yard lob dropped just over the crossbar and Adebola’s powerful run brought another fine save from Bland who tipped wide.
Early in the second half, Robinson slid in as Ahmed Obeng broke at pace but the loose ball fell into James Dance’s path, luckily Bland was quickly off his line to block from 12 yards.
At the other end, in a sporadic Blues break, Armstrong held off two defenders, only for Ibby Hassan to run in and blaze high over the top from distance.
Then, just after the hour mark, came the sort of goalmouth scramble that had it happened in a televised game would be shown for years to come. A right-wing corner was headed onto the bar by Adebola, the loose ball was then twice cleared off the goal-line and once more tipped onto the woodwork by Bland, as shots rained in on goal. The ball was eventually scrambled clear at the third attempt.
“That was their best pressure overall.” said Williams.
“I felt we could’ve dealt with it better, we flapped about a bit and there were two occasions where we could’ve got it into their half. There were some great saves from Shane though and it showed how much we wanted that point.”
Armstrong then played a neat through-ball for Dave McTiernan, who dragged wide from a good position, with 20 minutes remaining. Soon after, the defensive midfielder limped off after staying down following a strong challenge. Shane Henry took his place and the Seasiders started to exert more pressure after being penned in their own half for long periods.
On 74 minutes, Adam Rundle’s free-kick picked out Armstrong at the far post. The 30-year-old striker’s powerful goalbound header brought a tremendous full-length stop from Gemmell.
Bland saved comfortably low to his right from Jack Duggan’s header before Henry cut in from the right and brought another frantic tip wide from Gemmell. Within seconds, Lee Mason’s ferocious hit from the edge of the box was deflected inches wide as Town enjoyed their best spell of the match, late on.
Coming into the game towards the end has become a regular thing for the Blues lately.
“For some reason, we did it against Skelmersdale too,” Williams added.
“We tend to end games very well – a couple of times on the break we could’ve nicked it.”
As Town knocked the ball around neatly, utilising Rundle on the left-wing in particular, substitute Craig Farrell came close. Farrell, on for Snaith for the final 15 minutes, slid inches wide as chances came at both ends in a frenetic finish, though the match was destined to end goal-less.
“There were good chances.” said Williams. “We had a fair bit of possession and I thought we played the better football. We were penned in on occasion but that’s to be expected away from home.”
The Blues boss (36) was also full of praise for his backline, particularly ex-Middlesbrough gloveman Bland.
“He’s been fantastic.” Williams mused. “He’s kept us in games at times. Bullock and Pell did a good job- we did very well from set pieces.” he added.
“A couple of seasons ago, we could’ve conceded. We’ve played well when we could. We couldn’t afford to take risks with square balls or playing from the back.”
Rushall Olympic: Gemmell, Turner, Martin, Duggan, Caines (c), Craddock (Spencer 79), Spink, Dacres, Adebola, Obeng, Dance. Subs not used: Daniel, Wood, Mugisha, Bannister.
Whitby Town: Bland, Hassan, Robinson(c), Bullock, Pell, McTiernan (Henry 72), Portas, Mason, Armstrong, Snaith (Farrell 76), Rundle. Subs not used: Mulligan, Burgess, Campbell (GK).
Rushall Olympic 0 Whitby Town 0