Blues fight back from brink after City horror show
Lee Bullock admits: 'I don't think anyone could have blamed the club had they wanted to make the change, we were in an awful run,' as he looks back on the moment that seemingly changed Whitby Town's season for the better, a 5-0 defeat by Lancaster.
He added: “To be honest, we never had a leg to stand on had the club decided to move us on.”
Bullock pauses, thinking back on a run of 17 games without a win, in the process breaking the club record.
That would normally be enough for the hierarchy of any football club, especially with relegation then still a very real possibility.
But to then see a team put on a performance so abject, so soulless and so void of anything, the cogs begin to tick as to when the axe would fall.
Some murmurings, though not many, had started.
An embarrassing North Riding FA Senior Cup defeat to Teesside League Redcar Athletic caused some, but for the most part, the backing from supporters was still there, even after the Lancaster debacle.
But despite these results, the club backing was still there.
“Naturally there was some worry that we were going to lose two years of hard work, especially after that run,” Bullock mused, reflecting on one of his toughest times as a number two.
“We have a lot to thank the club for, for sticking by us and giving us the chance to turn it around. They’ve been nothing but supportive.
“We know that they could have brought in someone else, but if they had, they would have had exactly the same problems as us, it would have been just as tough.
“We were in a rut then, having to chop and change personnel quite often.
“We’d lost players and we had to find the right balance in the squad.
“We needed players who fit in with our ideas, but importantly we had to keep the players happy as best we could.
“It wasn’t ideal, introducing several new faces to the fore.
“It was definitely the most difficult period that I’ve gone through in my time as an assistant, and I know how tough it’s been for Chris (Hardy) too.
“Throughout it we were on the phone trying to figure it all out, trying to find a way forward.
“We didn’t have a steady side for a while, there were a lot of changes to personnel in a short space of time and it was a constant battle to find a formation; a system that could suit us and it was a nightmare at times.”
A 2-0 Boxing Day defeat to Farsley Celtic showed glimpses of the Turnbull Ground horror show to come, with Whitby again abject and appearing to be miles away from the standard of the level through some passages of play.
However, New Year’s Day was different as Whitby beat a Workington side that hadn’t lost in 17. It was a Blues side that weren’t afraid to take risks, and it paid off.
And that looked like it was the turning point. A confident and clinical display that gave everyone reason to hope.
To go to a club on such a fine run of form, chasing the play-offs and get a win would be unprecedented in most leagues, though in the Evo-Stik League, you could call it just another weekend.
And another lesson of the cruel division smacked the Seasiders square in the face on the following Saturday, when they fell 5-0 to Lancaster City, in the most embarrassing fashion.
He added: “That game shellshocked everyone. It got to everyone, the players, the staff, the supporters, absolutely everyone.
“There was no hiding place and it wasn’t acceptable. Questions were rightly asked of us.
“Everything then needed to change. It left every one of us feeling numb, where we went from there was a mystery at that point, we probably could have gone at any minute, but we had to keep working.
“We knew, and the players knew, that attitudes needed to change and we needed to give supporters better.”
Since that defeat, attitudes have changed. They’ve been shocked into a change.
There have been slight flashbacks, falling three behind in 11 minutes at Rushall, but that fight, passion and desire that looked to have been deserted on that dire afternoon at the Turnbull Ground came back in droves at Dales Lane, as Whitby pulled it back to draw 3-3.
That was sandwiched between two 0-0 draws with promotion-chasing Shaw Lane and Hednesford Town respectively, before the Blues finally got their chance to show what they’re really capable of; Halesowen Town finding themselves blown away by a five-star second half Whitby performance, to put a huge three points on the board in the relegation battle.
The fight again showed, as the Blues fought back from 2-0 down with nine men to get a point from Stafford in the 90th minute, before again running out winners at the Turnbull Ground, 2-1 over Nantwich.
Their last outing, however, wasn’t so great as the Blues fell to a 1-0 defeat at Witton Albion, with probably their poorest showing since Lancaster.
With the upturn in results, and other league factors such as points deduction, Whitby now sit 13 points above the drop zone, with games running out.
With that, the Blues’ management team have some breathing space to look towards the next campaign, and improving on what has been a poor 2017-18 outing. But is it prove yourself time already for the current Blues’ crop?
“The players need credit for pulling us out of that rut. We all had a lot of searching to do to find new levels and we’ve all done that. It was like hitting the reset button, we got back to basics and then went to Shaw Lane and got a brilliant draw.
“Since then the lads have rebuilt their confidence and produced some excellent results. They’ve put a great amount of effort in and they’re getting the rewards they deserve.
“We need to look to finish the season well now. It’s up to lads to prove themselves as we are still looking to plan for the new campaign. That goes for Chris and I too, if we have a bad end, we might not be here.
“If you can finish strongly, that’s massive for next season. It’s as good as a statement as to how you want to finish the next season too. It you get a strong end to the campaign under your belt, it gives you momentum when you’re looking for a good start to the next.
“The lads need to keep putting the work in and so do we. We’re not 100% out of the woods yet so we need to get a couple more wins on the board, but once we’ve 100% done the job, we can give the lads more freedom to play the football we know they can.”