One leap for Armstrong, one big point for Blues

Nathan Mulligan (centre) on the attack as the Blues are held to a 1-1 draw by leaders Marine'picture: Brian Murfield

Nathan Mulligan (centre) on the attack as the Blues are held to a 1-1 draw by leaders Marine'picture: Brian Murfield

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GRAEME Armstrong’s far-post header ensured Whitby grabbed their first point of the season against league leaders Marine on Saturday.

It could’ve been even better after the Mariners had keeper Ryan McMahon sent off six minutes before half-time.

Graeme Armstrong goes close in the first minute'picture: Brian Murfield

Graeme Armstrong goes close in the first minute'picture: Brian Murfield

Armstrong told the Whitby Gazette the 34th minute goal allowed him to play in a more relaxed fashion after coming in for some criticism, after previously netting just once in eight games.

However, the 29-year-old, who joined from Blyth in the summer, has repeatedly hit posts and crossbars this season and needed the underside of the bar to help the ball in for Saturday’s goal.

“I must’ve hit the woodwork four or five times – I’ve never had a run like it,” he said. “We created chances and we were unlucky not to score those chances, [we] possibly need to be a little bit more clinical.

“But Marine are up the top for a reason, although they go down to 10 men, sometimes it spurs teams on a bit.

“They were hard to break down, they still had the back four and they did a job really.”

Player-manager Darren Williams made one change from the side that beat Ossett Town 1-0 in midweek, with Ibby Hassan making just his second start of the season as Whitby’s right wingback.

The unbeaten visitors started strongly with Andy Fowler firing a warning shot over the Blues’ bar from distance, as Town’s defenders backed off.

At the other end, Armstrong had a great chance to put the hosts ahead, when he found himself one-on-one with Ryan McMahon, but the former Prescot gloveman saved well with his legs.

The Merseysiders continued to threaten and on eight minutes, Shaun Dowling overlapped down the left, finding Nick Rogan, who cleverly fed Marcus Carver. The on-loan Accrington Stanley striker’s snapshot was blocked behind by centre-half Craig James, with Danny Grannon heading Michael Ordish’s left-wing corner over the top.

Whitby failed to learn from the scare and Carver, the league’s top scorer, made it eight for the season within seconds. The home defence mistimed their attempted offside, leaving the hitman clean through, on the left of the Blues’ box, to calmly slot between keeper Nick Liversedge and his left-hand post.

As the away side looked to press home their advantage, Liversedge had to be out quickly to clutch the ball at Carver’s feet on 15 minutes and strike-partner Rogan later fired into the side-netting from 20 yards.

Despite racing to five goals this term, Nathan Mulligan was unable to celebrate his 26th birthday with a sixth strike, instead, blazing wastefully high from distance, when well-placed to pass the ball.

Marine then missed a good chance and it proved costly for the Crosby club, as Armstrong evened the scores 11 minutes before half-time.

Good Whitby pressure down the left culminated in Town winning a corner, which Mulligan swung deep for Kev Burgess to flick on to Armstrong, who nodded against the underside of the crossbar and narrowly over the line. There was a few seconds of deliberation for referee Paul Curry after a defender hacked clear, but he awarded the goal.

Buoyed by this, the Seasiders pushed on and after McMahon was stranded out of his area, the keeper instinctively handled as Mulligan closed in and tried to chip the ball over him. Curry had no choice but to brandish a red card.

Luckily for them, the away side had ex-Wigan keeper Callum Williams on the bench as Ordish made way. When the dust finally settled, James curled the free-kick straight into the replacement’s hands. Armstrong should’ve at least tested Williams, two minutes into injury time, but fired over, on the turn, from 12 yards.

Tom Portas’ mazy run sent Mulligan clear down the left, the former Darlington forward then cut in and slammed a near-post drive that Williams pushed behind.

At the other end, a decent four-minute spell from Marine saw Carver’s tame shot smothered low to his right by Liversedge, substitute Paul Brown blasting the ball into orbit from 25 yards and Rogan stabbing just wide from the edge of the penalty area.

Armstrong then turned well again on 65 minutes, before unleashing an 18-yard piledriver that brought the save of the match from Williams, who tipped over. McTiernan came close from similiar distance, before another controversial moment, with 17 minutes remaining. It was Mulligan again who drew what most of the ground believed was a clear handball, inside the visitors’ box from centre-back Grannon. However, Curry decided it was ball to hand and home appeals were waved away.

Whitby made three changes in eight minutes, but to little avail. Only a right-wing cross-shot that narrowly avoided Armstrong’s outstretched right leg, moments before his departure, caused any alarm, late on, for the league leaders.

Boss Darren Williams was disappointed not to get a spot-kick, comparing it with what he felt was a harsher award, against Whitby, at Buxton, last month.

“I thought the one at Buxton was always rising, there was every chance of it going over the bar, while the situation on Saturday was going into the box and towards the goal,” he said.

“I spoke to the referee after the game and he said, in that instance, he would never ever give a penalty.

“I explained to him what happened at Buxton and he was quite suprised a penalty was given.”

Williams also expected a bit more from his team against 10 men, adding: “I thought first half we played well, I felt second half it got a little bit scrappy.

“I know the wind picked up a little bit, but I felt as though we could’ve got it down a bit more and passed it about.”

Whitby Town: Liversedge, James, Robinson (c), Burgess, White, Portas, McTiernan, Williams, Armstrong (Snaith 82), Mulligan (Clarke 81), Hassan (Henry 74). Subs not used: Tait, Campbell. Attendance: 231

Co-operative Whitby WTFC Man of the Match: Tom Portas.

Whitby Town 1 Marine 1