BLUES HALF-SEASON REVIEW: Blues tail off after reaching the summit
Paul Connolly takes a look back at the highlights of the 2016/17 campaign to date
How Whitby Town were transformed from relegation favourites to title contenders in the space of just five short months.
After a disappointing 2015/16 campaign where the club only just avoided relegation, boss Chris Hardy made his aims clear from day one of pre-season. Whitby were looking to consolidate, and nothing more.
The re-building process began with the arrivals of Steven Snaith, Dan McWilliams, Curtis Round, Andrew May, Matthew Tymon, Ben Askins and James Dawson.
As well as that, Hardy signed a two-year contract, along with a number of key players, such as Dale Hopson, and his coaching staff.
Matty Waters was confirmed to be leaving the club, joining Darren Williams at Washington, whilst Richard Pell departed for Blyth Spartans.
Pre-season kicked off in an unspectacular manner for the Seasiders, losing their opening three matches. South Shields ran out 1-0 winners at the Turnbull, whilst Middlesbrough’s U23s put five past the Blues, in response to Whitby’s two.
The third game, at Hardy’s former club Guisborough Town, saw another shut-out for Whitby in a 2-0 defeat, with Ben Askins pulling up with another serious injury in the warm-up.
Improvements were coming, and Marske United felt the brunt of them, going down 2-0 at the Turnbull Ground, thanks to goals from David McTiernan and Mikey Roberts.
July ended with another Northern League club visiting the Turnbull in Bishop Auckland. All four of the game’s goals were scored in a frenetic first period, the match eventually playing out as a 2-2 draw.
Pre-season results were improving and August started with a 2-0 win at Pickering Town.
A 1-1 draw against east coast rivals Scarborough Athletic followed, with Mikey Roberts on target as Hardy announced that Steven Snaith would be his captain for the new season.
A busy day continued, with the 10CC-headlined Coastline Festival following the football, at The Stables. Hosted by BBC Tees’ Paul ‘Goffy’ Gough, the day was well received and dubbed a “huge success” for the club by its organisers.
The Blues travelled to Eastwood for their opening day fixture with Sutton Coldfield, due to the hosts’ own 3G pitch being unplayable.
Despite a good performance, Dale Hopson’s early goal was matched by a spectacular last-gasp 25-yard volley from Danny O’Callaghan.
Hardy’s side didn’t have to wait long for their first win though, and home comforts paid dividends with a 1-0 win over Corby Town, thanks once again to Dale Hopson, who netted from the spot.
Despite another striker coming in, it was Hopson who couldn’t stop scoring, and another goal from the attacking midfielder ensured a Tuesday night 1-0 victory at recently-promoted Warrington Town.
New signing Luke Bythway soon made his mark and grabbed a late equaliser when the Blues travelled to promotion favourites Hednesford Town, to ensure a 1-1 draw despite a backs-to-the-wall performance.
The quick turnaround of games continued, and Frickley Athletic visited the Turnbull Ground on the August Bank Holiday. A rampant Whitby side put their Yorkshire rivals to the sword with a 4-0 victory.
Hopson continued his fine form with two more strikes, both from the spot, while Mikey Roberts opened his account for the season. Curtis Round topped the afternoon off with a fantastic lobbed effort from 20 yards out.
September got underway with an FA Cup encounter at the Turnbull Ground.
North West Counties Football League outfit Winsford United were the visitors, with the Seasiders expected to run out as clear winners, but the away side snatched a 3-3 draw, cancelling out Matty Tymon and Steven Snaith’s strikes.
The replay came just 48 hours later, with a battling Winsford not quite having enough to topple Whitby, despite taking an early lead.
Matty Tymon and Steven Snaith again combined, as they had in the original game, to take down the plucky NWCFL side with goals either side of half-time. The reward for the win was a trip to Brewery Field to face Spennymoor Town.
A pair of home games followed the cup win, with Mickleover Sports visiting first. A mean Mickleover defence held firm to gain a 1-1 draw, until Tymon converted a Danny McWilliams cross first-time to earn the Blues a point.
Ilkeston were the next visitors, and despite a turbulent start to the season, gave a good account of themselves, pushing the Blues all the way despite ending the game 2-1 losers.
Dale Hopson saw his opener matched by a stunning free-kick from Rory Coleman, before Tymon netted the winner.
Whitby returned to FA Cup action on the following Saturday, travelling to Spennymoor Town.
A tight game played out, with nothing between the two sides, before Glen Taylor netted at the back post to end the Seasiders’ nine-game unbeaten run and their FA Cup hopes for another season.
In a quirk of fate, Hardy’s men again travelled to Brewery Field just a couple of days later for a league clash.
Another close affair ensued, before a flash of Dale Hopson genius ensured three points in the last minute of the game.
Still unbeaten in the league, Whitby were on the road again, this time Stourbridge-bound and to a ground that they’re yet to win at.
That run continued with a lacklustre Blues performance, with only Adam Gell responding in a 2-1 defeat, with a composed 25-yard chip.
Bouncing back was high on Chris Hardy’s agenda and Whitby did just that with a good 2-1 win over NPL veteran Jody Banim’s Ashton United.
Banim himself netted with a powerful effort, but that strike was counteracted by two first-half strikes from David McTiernan and Matty Tymon.
It was a particularly poignant goal for McTiernan, who was celebrating making it to third in the club’s all-time appearance list on the night.
Sutton Coldfield travelled to Whitby to get October underway, and some keystone cops-esque defending from the visitors presented Dale Hopson with two easy chances, which he took gratefully.
The two-goal cushion was more than welcome in the second half, with captain Steven Snaith seeing red on the hour mark for a bad tackle.
The win was followed by good news, with the league giving Whitby the first club of the month award of the season, for September, despite them losing their unbeaten run and dropping out of the FA Cup.
The club of the month curse struck, much like it did in January 2014 when the Blues last won the award, leading to two failed attempts to reach the top of the Evo-Stik NPL.
A trip to Buxton silenced the Blues, with Whitby eventually falling to a 3-0 defeat in Derbyshire.
Things didn’t improve when the Seasiders travelled to Grantham Town, somewhere they traditionally struggle, on the following Tuesday. Another poor display ensured a second consecutive defeat, this time by a 2-0 scoreline.
Returning to home turf saw Whitby begin to pick up points again. Workington AFC travelled to the Turnbull Ground for the first game of the month between the sides.
Luke Bythway gave the Blues the lead, but the visitors battled back to equalise, after a strong second half showing.
Winning ways soon followed, with out-of-form Marine next up for Whitby.
Matty Tymon was at the double in the second half, with Mikey Roberts also netting to ensure a 3-1 win and kick-start a fine five-match winning run.
The Blues then travelled to two more grounds that hadn’t served them well in previous seasons, though Chris Hardy ensured that this wasn’t to be the case this time around.
Dale Hopson’s 10th goal of the season saw Hardy’s men run out 1-0 winners at Skelmersdale United, sending Town top of the Evo-Stik NPL, while a Roberts double at Barwell secured three points, despite intense late pressure from the hosts.
Off the pitch, club president Ivor Homer pledged to give the club a financial boost, by paying £10 for every goal scored and clean sheet kept through December and January’s games.
Workington then returned to the Turnbull Ground full of intent, in the FA Trophy. The visitors led 2-0 within 10 minutes, before Mikey Roberts and Matty Tymon squared matters ahead of the break.
The second half saw more drama, with Roberts putting Whitby ahead, only for Workington to level matters. With the game heading for a replay, Kieran Weledji snatched a winner to make it 4-3 to the Blues.
The wind swirled around the Turnbull Ground when an in-form Matlock Town visited in early November, with both giving the Seasiders a stern test. Only a Dale Hopson strike separated the sides, coming from an incisive Whitby breakaway.
A break from league action meant that the Blues could put their focus elsewhere while still sitting pretty at the top of the Evo-Stik NPL.
First up was an FA Trophy trip to money-side Shaw Lane Association, with the Evo-Stik Division One South leaders cruising past Whitby, thanks to a 3-0 win. Steven Snaith also saw a late red card, taking the total number of games missed through suspension to eight for the season.
It was the Integro League Cup that followed for Whitby, with Chris Hardy taking the choice to rest key members of the squad.
The Blues came out worse off against lower league opposition for the second time in four days, losing 3-2 to a last-minute Bobby Johnson goal.
A blow was then struck after O2 and Vodafone plans to relocate their mobile phone masts were unveiled. The move would effectively relegate the club, with £14,000 in revenue being earned from the mast each year.
As had become the norm, Whitby bounced back straight away and got a 3-2 win on their travels, at Coalville Town. Dale Hopson and Jack Blackford both netted fantastic solo efforts, while Matty Tymon also got on the scoresheet, converting a header at the back post.
Town were yet to hit a rut in the league, so it came as no surprise when it finally started.
Grantham Town again ran out 2-0 winners over the Blues, this time at the Turnbull Ground, ending Whitby’s home league unbeaten record.
It was a trip to Ilkeston that followed, and despite numerous chances, neither side could break the deadlock and played out a 0-0 draw.
Whitby Town then returned to North Riding Senior Cup action, for the first time in six years, at Guisborough Town. The Blues didn’t get out of second gear on the night, running out 5-0 winners over Hardy’s former charges, thanks to new signing Kyle Fryatt’s double and Dale Hopson’s hat-trick
Off the pitch, December started with news that the planning application for the O2 and Vodafone mast merger at Whitby Rugby Club had been rejected by Scarborough Borough Council, ensuring that they would remain at the Turnbull Ground.
With the start of December came the talk of the month being the ‘acid test’ for the Seasiders. That test started at Rushall Olympic.
Both sides played out a tight 90 minutes, but Whitby’s hearts were broken, after a rebound from the hosts’ second penalty of the game trickled into the back of the net.
Whitby’s first visitors of the month were Nantwich Town. The Dabbers, despite sitting 12th, were in good form heading into the match.
That showed, as they ran out 3-1 winners on the afternoon, thanks to Osebi Abadaki’s dazzling hat-trick performance.
The match proved to be Connor Smith’s last in a Blue shirt, too, as he headed back to his parent club Hartlepool United.
Another tough test then followed, with a trip to Matlock Town. The Blues took the lead through Adam Gell, and dominated for the bulk of the game, but could not hold off an onslaught late on from the hosts.
With this, Whitby fell to a second 90th-minute defeat in three weeks, their fourth in five games.