WHITBY Town dropped to fourth-from-bottom in the EvoStik Premier after a third successive defeat, this time against second-placed Ashton United, following a brace from the league’s top scorer, 16-goal Aaron Burns.
Saturday’s defeat came as centre-halves Kev Burgess and Alex White missed out with foot and knee injuries, which could keep the pair sidelined for the next month.
Player-boss Darren Williams secured the four-week loan signing of defender Arjun Purewal, from Darlington 1883, less than 24 hours before kick-off, the 23-year-old started alongside Ibby Hassan. Striker Craig Farrell (29), another newcomer picked up on a permanent deal from Blyth Spartans, began on the bench. Williams himself made a first start since September as illness consigned Nathan Mulligan to the bench.
Despite a bright start, the re-jigged Blues fell behind inside five minutes, from the penalty spot. Burns collected Scott Hogan’s through-ball as the visitors intercepted a Town corner.
The prolific former Manchester United prospect hit the box and rounded Nick Liversedge, only to go down under the keeper’s challenge. Referee Mr Liddle perhaps showed leniency with just Liversedge between Burns and goal, showing Town’s gloveman a yellow card and leaving Ashton’s number nine to fire a crisp penalty low to the keeper’s left.
Two minutes later, Liversedge made amends, blocking with his legs to deny Hogan at the near post. Ashton’s Tom Baker was then lucky to only pick up a booking, as he lunged in with studs showing on Williams.
As the Robins continued to carve out the better chances, Burns should’ve done better, hammering an angled drive from inside the penalty area, high over the top.
If that was a great chance, what followed next was a gift-horse as Alex Frost was left unmarked at the far post from Danny Caldecott’s right-wing cross, only for the full-back to poke the ball into a nearby garden, from underneath the crossbar.
For Whitby, Steve Snaith’s tame shot on the turn brought a comfortable save for Paul Phillips, while Shane Henry somehow avoided a card for a rash challenge on centre-half Craig Robinson.
Despite lengthy spells of possession, it looked as though the game was up for the hosts, thanks to two goals in six minutes, early in the second half. First, on 56 minutes, Hogan’s driven right-wing ball was somehow sliced up and over Liversedge, by Purewal’s outstretched leg, and dropped agonisingly, inside the far post. The Lancastrians then made it 3-0 as Frost’s neat ball over the Blues’ backline was slotted home on the turn by Burns, who quickly slipped his marker, amid forlorn offside appeals.
Williams withdrew himself and Snaith, as Town’s top marksman Mulligan, second only to Burns in the hotshot tally and seven-goal Farrell formed a three-man strikeforce with another ex-Spartan, Graeme Armstrong.
Within moments, the trio combined as Farrell found Armstrong, who was dragged down in the area, by substitute Thomas Moore.
Mulligan found the roof of the net with his seventh successful league spot-kick.
Whitby came to life and suddenly their neat one-touch football led to shots on goal. Farrell’s speculative 25-yard effort failed to trouble Phillips, but Armstrong then fought his way inside from the right flank and slammed against the keeper’s left-hand post.
At the other end, Burns cleared the crossbar from 12 yards and with 15 minutes remaining, United manager Danny Johnson introduced Matty Kosylo for Matty Barlow.
Mulligan’s strong run then ended in a low edge-of-the-box drive, narrowly wide of Phillips’ right-hand post. But with nine minutes left, came a pivotal moment as lovely interplay released Armstrong, who fired past Phillips, only for linesman Michael Andrews’ flag to silence Town celebrations.
Wave after wave of home attacks followed for the last 10 minutes, though desperate defensive work from the visitors’ hairless back-four, led by twin-towers Robinson and skipper Chris Lynch, continuously repelled the blue threat.
The afternoon was summed up for the hosts when right-back Ashley Corker was sent-off for a slide challenge with studs showing, deep into injury time.
The defender made no contact with his opponent, but had been booked three minutes earlier.
After a match that featured 13 cards, Williams, who was one of those booked, felt the man in the middle struggled to keep control.
“He’s refereed it very poorly,” Williams said. “He wasn’t consistent in what he was doing.
“He threw out three yellow cards in the 90th minute - which was ridiculous - one of which has led to a red card for Ash - one for myself and for their striker, who has kicked the ball away.
“Bearing in mind, they did that through the whole game, he’s waited for the last minute to book players left, right and centre.”
Williams admitted Shane Henry was fortunate to escape action for his challenge, but felt Baker should’ve been dismissed in the first half, for his foul. “He was very lucky, he did leave the ground with both feet. Judging by the stud marks in my ankle, he was lucky to stay on the pitch.”
“He sent Ash off and Ash didn’t even make contact with the lad, he then booked Nathan Mulligan for a dive.
“I asked him why he didn’t book their lad when he fell between me and Mark Robinson with no contact at all.”
“It looked like a dirty game, but it really wasn’t. I believe both reports, put in by ourselves and Ashton, were to that extent, there was [another] referee there who said the same.
“Referees are going way over the top with yellow cards, it sheds a bad light on both teams.”
Despite the result, which drops Town into the bottom four, Williams was pleased by his side’s performance and believes they were unlucky to lose.
“I was disappointed as we dominated the game as a whole,” he claimed.
“We were well on top, unfortunately, with a penalty and an own goal and possibly an offside, it’s goals we conceded that are preventable.
“The first goal cost us, I think it knocked us a little bit, although we still went on and dominated the game.
“The second goal was unfortunate, it struck an awkward bounce in front of Arj and basically, it’s one of those that you either get a good connection on it and clear your lines or it hits you and goes up into the back of the net, unfortunately for Arj.
“I thought he had a good game overall, it was a bit of a blow for him.”
Williams also cursed his luck at the other end and wondered if Town could’ve been more clinical.
“Graeme Armstrong’s put it in the back of the net - was he on-side, was he off-side, is another question.
“He’s also hit the post again. We’ve had a few chances, we probably could’ve had more and maybe got more shots off.
“We’ve delayed a lot of times and a lot of times it didn’t fall for us.”
Whitby Town: Liversedge, Corker, Robinson (c), Hassan, Purewal, McTiernan, Portas, Williams (Mulligan 56), Snaith (Farrell 56), Armstrong, Henry. Subs not used: Tait, Hugill, Campbell (GK). Attendance: 248
Co-operative Whitby WTFC man of the match: Ibrahim Hassan
Whitby Town 1 Ashton Utd 3