ANOTHER poor first-half display cost Whitby Town a place in the FA Cup’s last qualifying round on Saturday, writes Andrew Snaith.
Spartans are now just one win from the proper rounds of the competition, when teams from League One and Two enter, pocketing the £7,500 prize money.
Watched on by former manager of both clubs, Harry Dunn, current Blues boss Tommy Cassidy made two changes from Wednesday’s dismal 4-3 home defeat to Worksop Town. Darren Williams prevented Andy Leeson from lining up against his old club at right-back, while Sam Hodgson came in to replace Lewis Hawkins.
Roared on by 150-plus travelling fans, Blyth threatened inside the opening three minutes when striker Richard Offiong curled against the top of the Blues’ crossbar from 20 yards.
At the other end, some neat build-up play down the left saw the ball played inside for Dave McTiernan on the edge of the Blyth box, who did well to work an opening, but fired disappointingly, high over the top. Moments later, good work from Matty Tymon set up the unmarked Callum Martin to head a right-wing cross straight at former Middlesbrough keeper David Knight.
However, the 13th minute proved lucky for the visitors as they grabbed the opening goal.
Michael Tait went down easily under White’s challenge, allowing Neal Hooks to lob a gentle free-kick into the Blues’ box and there was Tait to flick a header past Tom Courtney from close range.
Spartans bossed the rest of the half with Offiong’s 18-yard shot looping up off Burgess and just past Courtney’s left-hand-post and Hooks’ cross picking out Carl Jones, whose side half-volley was deflected wide by White. Tait came close again with a near-post header after a succession of corners and only a last-ditch sliding tackle from Ibby Hassan denied Chris Emms, following a neat Armstrong backheel.
So it came as little surprise when the visitors doubled their lead three minutes before the break. Hassan headed away Emms’ sliced effort, but only as far as Tait, who nodded down for Emms to connect perfectly this time, low and hard, past Courtney, from just inside the left-edge of the box.
The away side could have grabbed a third before half-time, only two courageous blocks from Williams denied Dan Groves 12 yards out and allowed Hassan to clear.
There was also time for Burgess to go in the book, before the break, after grabbing Tait, who’d wrestled Martin to the ground and also picked up a yellow card from referee Ricky Wootton.
Tait, on loan from Harrogate Town, was replaced at the interval by Richie Slaughter and the away side perhaps missed his midfield bite as the Seasiders came more into the game, as the second half wore on.
Blues came a whisker away from pulling a goal back as Martin’s left-wing inswinging cross flew across goal and wide, narrowly avoiding the onrushing Robinson, six yards from goal. Moments later, another pinpoint Martin ball did find Robinson via a Blyth header and his scuffed shot from the edge of the box, was poked on by Callum Hassan, but Cave got between Hodgson and McTiernan to clear.
As Whitby pushed on, Martin chipped a beautiful ball between the centre-halves for Callum Hassan, but the big striker couldn’t control the ball as it dropped over his shoulder and Knight was out to gather.
It was the on-loan Hartlepool forward’s last touch of the game as Jake Faichney replaced him around the hour mark.
Martin hooked waywardly high and wide when well-placed, before Robinson became the third Whitby player to go into Mr Wootton’s notebook after sneaking a free-kick all of two yards forward. White had earlier rightly seen yellow after a crunching lunge. With ball suitably replaced, Robinson’s speculative 25-yard set piece, near the right touchline, was clutched comfortably low to his left by Knight.
Tymon made way for fellow frontman Matty Dunford, last seen netting at Parkgate, two rounds earlier, but Blyth should have ended the contest, 10 minutes from time. Emms’ lofted pass picked out Armstrong who sent a free header across goal and past Courtney’s left-hand post.
And it looked as though the former Northern League outfit might be punished when Whitby pulled a goal back, nine minutes from time. Centre-half Burgess, thrown up front for the last 20 minutes, nodded down Martin’s long ball for Faichney to force home from point-blank range. Moments later, Robinson helped on Hodgson’s clearance but Jones just got in ahead of McTiernan, as the ex-Middlesbrough junior lined up a 12-yard shot.
There was time for one final golden chance for Town, with two minutes remaining.
Robinson’s throw was flicked on by Burgess and Williams, but it was a Blyth head whose attempted clearance could only find McTiernan, who volleyed high and wide from 12 yards.
Cassidy was disappointed his side couldn’t start the game as they ended it.
“We only play in patches of games and it’s not good enough,” he said.
“Today the second half was much better than the first half, Wednesday night, the second half was much better than the first half.
“We tried to address it the other day, it didn’t happen, it didn’t work - it’s just so frustrating.
“Blyth got the two goals but they weren’t that much better than us, as far as I was concerned.”
The former Gateshead and Workington boss confirmed he’s hoping to sign two strikers this week from a higher level.
He revealed: “We need at least two new players and we’re definitely talking forward players, there’s no doubt about that and we’re trying to do that at the moment.
“We need a bit of experience around the club and it’s showing, we’ve got to just try and battle on and I’m still very confident we’ll stay up.”
Whitby Town: Courtney, Williams, White, Hassan, Burgess, Hodgson, Martin, McTiernan, C Hassan (Faichney 57), Tymon (Dunford 69), Robinson (c). Subs not used: Leeson, Hawkins, Marron, McDermid, D Campbell. Attendance: 506.
Co-operative Whitby WTFC man Of The match: Jake Faichney, who politely declined his award due to only being on the pitch a short time, so it was allocated, instead, to the whole team for their efforts.