Clarke double gives Blues fifth win in six away games

TWO Jamie Clarke goals shot down promotion-chasers Marine and extends Whitby Town’s away run to five wins from six.

Stats show the Blues have picked up 19 points from their last 10 games which would put the Boues in the top five in the current form table.

Unfortunately, the Blues remain two points adrift of fifth-bottom Mickleover Sports, who also won, as did nearby Buxton and Stocksbridge Park Steels, preventing Town from leaving the relegation zone for the first time since September.

Player-manager Darren Williams made one change from the team that defeated bottom club Burscough a week earlier, with the former Sunderland star replacing Jimmy Beadle in the Town midfield.

Despite a poor home record that’s yielded just one win from nine at their Arriva Stadium, the seventh-placed hosts started strongly and early pressure culminated in Louis Barnes overlapping down the left and crossing for Aaron Rey to nod past the far post.

Rey’s 16-goal strike partner Neil Harvey forced Nick Liversedge to parry a low drive from the edge of the box on seven minutes.

Moments later, an inswinging corner was headed narrowly wide by centre-half John Shaw, following an almighty scramble in the Whitby area.

As the onslaught continued, Kev Burgess bravely blocked from successive six-yard snapshots, before Town threatened for the first time as Jeff Smith cut in from the left and poked towards the far corner, with keeper David Newnes fending the ball away.

In a lively opening, Andy Appleby then laid off for Clarke to drill well wide from the edge of the home box. At the other end, Rey combined with new signing Nick Rogan to free Harvey, whose goalbound shot on the turn brought a tremendous full-length save from Liversedge.

Appleby went down a little too easily in the Marine penalty area for the liking of referee Simon Mather, who ignored stifled protests.

However, Whitby were coming more into the match. Their fighting spirit and neat football were typified by Williams’ brave diving header, as he got in-between Rogan and Joe Fowler, on the left edge of his own six-yard box.

Liversedge then almost got himself into trouble, doing well initially to get out quickly and intercept at Fowler’s feet, but then requiring right-back Ibby Hassan to come across and slide the loose ball clear. The Seasiders were causing problems for ex-Kendal stopper Newnes and his defence too and should’ve led two minutes before the break.

Smith, who’d had a patchy half to say the least, cut in from the left and laid an inviting ball across the face of goal, but Appleby lost his footing at the crucial time and marker Shaw was able to hack clear. But there was to be no let off for Marine in the final minute of the first period.

Robinson’s right-wing corner was half-volleyed ferociously goalwards by Williams at the back post, with Newnes reacting well but unable to avoid palming the ball straight to Clarke, who nodded home first-time from point-blank range.

Whitby had their backline to thank for remaining in-front at the interval. Harvey broke down the right, directly from kick-off, but the former Retford forward’s sudden low drive was palmed round the near post by Liversedge. The corner looked bound for the roof of the net, via skipper Robbie Lawton’s forehead, only for Burgess to head off his own goal-line.

Not that this was a Whitby side penned in their own half, as Hassan showed seconds after the restart. The Blues’ right-back galloped toward the fringes of the Mariners’ box, before firing diagonally for goal and bringing good hands from ex-Kendal gloveman Newnes.

In response, Rey could only blast 20 feet over the bar and against the front of the Merseysiders’ grandstand, from distance. However, the wiry hitman adjusted his radar within two minutes, to notch a spectacular equaliser. He cut in from the right and curled an unstoppable left-footed, 20-yard effort into the top-left corner of the net, giving Liversedge no chance.

With over half an hour left, it was a bitter blow for the away side, but there was little doubt that a draw, even against opponents four points from the play-offs, wasn’t acceptable to them. Within moments, Appleby slalomed his way into the penalty area, but frustrated the noisy travelling support by taking too long to work an opening and losing the ball near the byline.

Williams then couldn’t generate enough power on his far-post header, from Tom Portas’ left-wing cross, and Newnes again held on calmly. The visitors suffered a blow on 63 minutes when cramp in his calf forced Hassan off, with Andy Leeson on in a straight swap.

The action was now firmly at the Whitby end, with courage and work-rate a must as Marine swarmed forward twice in as many minutes. First, Alex White blocked Rey’s strong near-post drive seconds later, Robinson cleared off the line from sub Darren Byers, after Sam Barnes and Paul Lundon took turns driving the ball across goal from either flank.

The biggest indication of Blues intent came when Williams’ ankle injury brought the more attacking Beadle into the centre of the park for the final 16 minutes. But in the meantime, both Byers and fellow sub Paul Brown were well off target before the men in white looked to have turned the match on its head, nine minutes from time.

Breaking at pace, with three attackers against two defenders, Harvey’s eventual close-range shot was partially stopped by Liversedge and Robinson was somehow able to hook from beneath his own crossbar for a second time.

With the match fascinatingly poised, Smith, vastly improved after the break, shimmied his way infield from the left touchline, feeding Clarke, who dribbled across the fringe of the box, before bending the ball around Newnes and inside the bottom-right corner.

Five minutes now remained, followed by the longest three minutes of added time this season. But finally, after Lawton wastefully slammed a fortunate 20-yard free-kick into the crowd, the final whistle brought exaggerated celebrations from Blues players and fans.

Club captain Robinson led an equally-ecstatic team to their supporters at the end and afterwards hailed: “A top class day from the staff right through to the fans, who witnessed that afternoon.”

The ex-York City left-back tweeted from the coach home post-match: “What a result that is.get in there, three points.massive effort from all the lads. Fans were class once again 2day! thanks.”

Liversedge, who suffered a nightmare afternoon two months earlier when Marine won 2-1 at Whitby, has enjoyed a real resurrection in confidence and form over recent weeks.

However, the 23-year-old revealed the extent of the Blues’ belief, stating: “It was great to get the win, especially after the home result, because we deserved something from that game.

“It was only an awkward bounce and a wind-assisted goal that gave them victory and not their performance, so we knew that we could go to their place and get a result.”

Whitby Town: Liversedge, Hassan (Leeson 63), Robinson (c), Burgess, White, McTiernan, Portas, Williams (Beadle 74), Clarke, Appleby (Mulligan 67), Smith. Subs not used: Lyth, D Campbell. Attendance: 350