Dale Hopson’s goal helped Whitby Town to a priceless point against promotion-chasing Darlington.
The Blues remain fourth from bottom in the Evo-Stik Premier Division, but taking four points away from top six sides Nantwich and Darlington has left them just a point behind rivals Marine and given renewed hope.
Boss Chris Hardy made two enforced changes for the rearranged clash, originally scheduled for Boxing Day. Richard Pell’s work commitments saw the centre half replaced by Jamie Poole, who returned to the club earlier that day, after a spell at Norton and Stockton, while striker Matty Waters came in for the injured Adam Gell. This meant Hopson returned to a deeper midfield role, retaining the captain’s armband against his former club.
Hopson and Waters combined superbly to put Whitby ahead inside six minutes. It was Hopson’s outswinging right-wing corner that was flighted invitingly for Waters to power a near-post header emphatically into the top-left corner of the net.
Moments later, the hosts, who began the day twelve points behind leaders Blyth Spartans, with four games in hand, almost levelled. Ex-Ramsbottom marksman Lee Gaskell latched onto Adam Mitchell’s long ball and tried to lob Shane Bland from the edge of the box, but the former Middlesbrough keeper just got back to catch on the line.
However, there was nothing Bland or the Blues could do about Darlington’s next opportunity, on 13 minutes. A right-wing corner was headed clear by Lee Bullock, only as far as Steve Thompson, who volleyed, right-footed, into the roof of the net, from the edge of the box.
Bland clutched low to his left from Thompson’s more-speculative shot from distance, before the hosts turned the match on its head, by taking the lead, with half an hour gone. Chris Hunter’s inch-perfect right-wing cross was nodded, even more precisely, over Bland and into the top-right corner by Terry Galbraith, lurking at the back post.
This boosted Martin Gray’s men who threatened again, within three minutes, as Thompson had an effort cleared off the Whitby line and ex-Blue Kev Burgess headed wide from Galbraith’s resulting right-wing corner.
Gray decided to replace Mitchell with another former Whitby player Tom Portas, at half-time and just after Bland smothered another Thompson long-ranger, a further familiar face took the field as Graeme Armstrong, 30-goal top scorer for Town in 2013-14, replaced the diminutive Nathan Cartman.
Armstrong perhaps retains a soft spot for the Blues, as soon after, Nathan McGinley was robbed near the touchline by Gaskell who cut back from near the right corner flag for Armstrong to sidefoot wide, when six yards out.
At the other end, Waters slammed past Jameson’s right-hand post from 18 yards, then on the hour mark, Dave McTiernan broke from the left-edge of the box, advancing forward but hooking over the bar from an acute angle.
The Quakers were again wondering how they didn’t go 3-1 up, on 65 minutes, when Armstrong returned the favour, setting up the falling Gaskell this time, who slid a point-blank chance wide.
Brobbel, who began the season with Darlington before joining the Blues, made way for debutant Jordan Jewson, with 17 minutes remaining. Like Poole, the teenage on-loan Hartlepool United striker had only signed that afternoon.
Within seconds, Whitby were level as Callum Martin linked up superbly with Mikey Roberts, who cut in off the right flank and cut back for Waters to tee up Hopson who slammed into the top-right corner from the edge of the box.
Armstrong headed Thompson’s left-wing cross straight at Bland then fired off target from 18 yards, before Town had one last chance to win it themselves, a minute from time.
Jewson showed why he’s so highly rated at Victoria Park as he galloped onto a lofted ball towards the left-edge of the Darlington penalty area. The 17-year-old then leathered a low drive that forced Jameson to fly to his right and save brilliantly to safeguard a share of the spoils.
Whitby Town: Bland, Martin, McGinley, Weledji, Poole, McTiernan, Hopson (c), Roberts (Elliott 90), Waters (R Gardner 90), Brobbel (Jewson 73). Subs not used: Robinson, Dixon (GK).
Man of the match: Nathan McGinley- Another towering performance showing why he’s keeping out the vastly-experienced Mark Robinson. Messers Martin and Hopson also stood out in a terrific team performance.