Blues hold title-chasing Salford

Shane Bland made a number of important saves in a man of the match display as Whitby Town drew with Salford City
Shane Bland made a number of important saves in a man of the match display as Whitby Town drew with Salford City

Whitby Town held title-chasing Salford City to a goalless draw in the Evo-Stik Premier Division, on Saturday.

A fourth successive clean-sheet helped the Blues to a point against the FA Cup giant killers and stars of their own BBC documentary, and keeps Chris Hardy’s men out of the bottom four.

The Town chief picked an unchanged starting 11 from that which drew 0-0 at Skelmersdale United, four days earlier, though new signing Scott Howes was named on the substitutes’ bench.

The Blues’ preparations were hampered by a crash on the A1, which closed the motorway at one junction, causing 90 minutes of tailbacks and a delaying kick-off until 3.30pm.

The third-placed hosts made all the early running without unduly troubling Shane Bland and his back five.

On 26 minutes, former Manchester United striker Danny Webber popped up on the left, running along the byline, beating Kieran Weledji, only for Bland to save well with his legs at the near post.

Webber did find the net, after the half hour, following good work from Scott Burton, but was flagged offside, with the Blues almost breaking the deadlock, just seconds later.

Neat play down the left involving Andy McWilliams and Dale Hopson released Mikey Roberts on the left-edge of the box, but Steve O’Halloran’s sliding pressure caused the Town top-scorer to slice wide.

Whitby were then rocked by an injury to midfielder Dave McTiernan, who stayed down following a challenge near the touchline, around halfway. In an attacking move, Hopson dropped deeper into midfield and Matty Waters joined Anthony Hume and Roberts in a flexible three-man strike force.

In the final minute of the half, ex-Hartlepool striker James Poole came close from a free-kick, to the right of the D, that slid past the Seasiders’ defensive wall, but found Bland well-set to smother, low to his right.

On Merseyside, news came through that Marine and Grantham’s clash had been abandoned at half-time and it seemed more bad news had befallen Town as Storm Katie edged east, the heavens opened and puddles soon appeared with heavy rain at the interval.

The deluge continued for the rest of the game and it was always a relief when the ball flowed on the Moor Lane surface, with both sides earning credit for trying to play on the ground as much as they could.

The game opened right up with some parts of the ground playing as normal and others slowing right down.

Within five minutes of the re-start, Bland parried Poole’s low effort from the right edge of the Whitby box and soon after, Salford looked sure to have struck when John Johnston beat Bland, with a downward header, from a right-wing cross, only for the ball to bounce up and over the Town crossbar.

Jordan Hulme replaced Webber in a straight swap up front on the hour mark, but hard work and great positioning from the Blues cut clear-cut chances to a minimum. 16 minutes from time, an inswinging left-wing corner was headed back across goal but narrowly over the bar, by centre-half Steve Howson, at the far post.

The tricky Richie Allen cut in off the left before curling high and wide before another great opportunity for the hosts.

Some impressive one-touch play saw Gary Stopforth release Allen, inside the Town box, who fired straight at Bland, point-blank, with the former Middlesbrough gloveman brilliantly scooping up and over his own crossbar.

With 10 minutes remaining, Martin’s cross from the right was headed straight at keeper Jay Lynch by Matty Waters, while Salford sacrificed Allen for Gareth Seddon, the ex-Bury marksman who was captured in the BBC documentary as a part-time model.

However, it was the visiting front-men who were catching the eye as Hardy’s boys scented a shock.

First, Lynch smothered low to his left from Hopson’s 20-yard hit and seconds later, Adam Gell’s effort, from similar range, was deflected over the top via Howson’s head.

Four minutes from time, Poole swivelled well but struck a downward shot into the turf but up into the hands of Bland, with Hume losing his footing as he ran onto a header on and the Town stopper collected.

Town then had one last opportunity, with two minutes left as Roberts put over a lovely diagonal ball, from the left flank and Hume collected before forcing Lynch to beat away his goal-bound drive, from the right-edge of the box.