Victory at Badgers raises Blues’ play-off ambitions

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Whitby Town player-manager Darren Williams praised his side after they returned to winning ways with a comfortable victory at bottom club Eastwood Town, on Saturday.

“The main point was we went there and got the result,” he said.

“It wasn’t about how many goals we can score, it’s about going there, doing a professional job and coming away with a clean sheet, which is fantastic.”

The Badgers, based in Nottinghamshire, have now conceded 90 league goals from 30 games, though Williams wasn’t concerned his team could only grab two, at the weekend.

“I think we could’ve had more goals,” he admitted.

“I just think the pitch, the condition of that and the way Eastwood played, was a very nullifying game.

“It was never going to be exciting. We couldn’t get it down, pass and have free-flow play like we’re used to.”

The Blues boss made two changes from the side that lost 3-1 at home to Witton Albion, seven days earlier.

Centre-half Kevin Burgess made his first league start since October, while Williams himself, began the game, as Alex White and Dave McTiernan were rested, ahead of the midweek visit of eighth-placed Buxton.

Williams explained the reasoning to the Whitby Gazette, revealing: “It’s about getting Kev a bit of time on the pitch - we’ve got a lot of games coming up.

“I knew they had a big lad up front and I felt that Kev would stand up to that, which he did.

“I thought the clean sheet was fantastic for Nick Liversedge too, who’s done tremendously well for us.”

The ex-Sunderland star, who was keen to point out he wasn’t taking the opposition lightly, added: “Dave McTiernan was still struggling a bit with his ankle, I felt that a little bit more defensive and getting myself some game-time, was a better option to go with.”

It looked a smart move as Whitby dominated early on, coming close, after 12 minutes, when Shane Henry brought a tremendous save from Richard Stainsby, with a goalbound header, from Nathan Mulligan’s right-wing cross.

Craig Farrell then went down in the box, soon after, and Graeme Armstrong followed in an even-better shout for a Blues penalty, but any appeals were waved away.

The towering Gregg Smith headed well wide, at the other end, before the visitors grabbed the lead on 25 minutes.

It was a strangely soft goal as Henry’s angled drive was blocked by defender Wayne Diuk, only for the Whitby winger to have time to pick up the rebound and curl tamely around a flat-footed Stainsby, from close range.

Both sides were limited to long range efforts for the rest of the half, with an awkward, bobbly surface doing little to provoke any attempt at passing football.

Smith poked Eastwood’s first shot on target, tentatively into Liversedge’s gloves, 10 minutes after the restart, with debutant Samuel Craven’s attempted lob, bringing the same result, seconds later.

The Blues showed the way to goal on the hour, when Graeme Armstrong stretched around the far post to nod home, while practically standin on the byline, from Mulligan’s deep left-wing corner.

The East Midlands outfit then forced a brave block from Arjun Purewal, two minutes later, as Vijay Selvam lashed toward goal, from the edge of the penalty area. Optimistic-looking spot-kick requests were ignored and any lingering hopes for the men in black and white disappeared, with 20 minutes remaining. Midfielder Mitch Hanson had already picked up a yellow card for dissent, so when he cynically hooked Ibby Hassan’s legs from under him, a second booking followed and Eastwood were down to 10 men.

As the smoke cleared, Williams made way for Ash Corker and 11 minutes from time Steven Snaith replaced a disconsolate Mulligan. Henry then embarked on a mazy run, exchanging passes neatly, only to hook high over the crossbar, from just inside the box.

Skipper Mark Robinson then made way for Craig James, in a straight swap at left-back and the Blues came agonisingly close to a third goal, in added time. Stainsby parried low to his left from Farrell’s 20-yarder and Armstrong was unlucky to see his first-time follow up crack the underside of the bar and bounce to safety.

Williams paid tribute to the lively Henry, who battled back from illness early in the new year, to reclaim a starting spot.

“He worked very hard - like he does every week - at times [he can] try too hard and get on top of himself a bit,” Whitby’s chief claimed.

“I felt he had a great game and it’s nice to see him back in the side doing well.”

The Blues rose above Matlock Town and Blyth Spartans, whose scheduled trip to high-flying Hednesford, was frozen off.

Williams has made no secret of his play-off ambitions with 16 matches left.

Town went into their midweek clash against Buxton, sitting 15th, 14 points behind fifth-placed Witton, with two games in hand.

Whitby Town: Liversedge, Hassan, Robinson (James 89), Burgess, Purewal, Williams (Corker 71), Portas, Henry, Farrell, Armstrong, Mulligan (Snaith 79). Subs not used: White, McTiernan. Attendance: 147

Eastwood Town 0 Whitby Town 2