ERIC Graves’ second half goal denied Whitby Town a first win of the season they’d have barely deserved after a poor showing on Saturday, writes Andrew Snaith.
Tommy Cassidy’s men struggled to cope with the unbeaten visitors’ extra height and continually played the ball up in the air, which only served to assist the Derbyshire side.
However, the Blues did the double over Mickleover last year, in their first season at Northern Premier level, so hopes were high that Town could bounce back from Wednesday’s second-half horror show against Bradford.
Cassidy made four changes - keeper Dave Campbell shook off an ankle injury to make his first appearance of the season, Billy Blackford made his first competitive start, alongside fellow incomer Matty Tymon and Callum Martin, as a three-man strikeforce.
Andy Leeson also returned to midfield, as ex-Sunderland star Darren Williams was rested.
The side was still gelling after all the switches early on, with the visitors firmly on top. A deep right-wing cross inside four minutes almost caused problems but Thom Kellogg could only slide the ball into the side netting, at the far post.
Moments later, Michael Simpson ran onto a long ball dropping over his shoulder on the right-edge of the box, but sliced a difficult chance across goal and well wide.
As Whitby finally threatened, Blackford was upended near the left touchline and Dave McTiernan’s inswinging free-kick was headed over by Kev Burgess.
Campbell was then tested as Graves’ goalbound shot in a crowded penalty area was held on the bounce by the veteran keeper. The stocky but skilful Danny Martin came close on 21 minutes with a curling free-kick that swerved just the wrong side of Campbell’s left-hand post.
Blackford then got free on the left for Whitby and slammed a vicious goal-bound effort that struck Burgess on the back and flew wide.
But the former Hartlepool youngster was to make no mistake minutes later. Leeson worked an opening on the edge of the visitors’ area and forced keeper Ali Barcherini to parry a low shot straight to Blackford, who drove an angled drive, first-time into the net.
The Seasiders finally perked up once ahead and Blackford again was thwarted from distance, this time by Martin’s midrift. However, it took a saving block from skipper Mark Robinson to take the pace off Kieran O’Connell’s low drive from close range and allow Campbell to smother.
Dick Pratley’s men began the second half where they ended the first, squarely in Whitby’s half. O’Connell should, have levelled just three minutes in, but the former Derby academy player rolled the ball agonisingly wide of Campbell’s right-hand post after beating the Blues’ offside trap. Substitute Jason Beardsley then failed to live up to his illustrious surname, trying a hopelessly ambitious shot from near the right touchline some 35 yards from goal which Campbell caught with ease.
It appeared that perhaps the away side were beginning to run of ideas, but that wasn’t the case when a fine one touch passing move left Town’s defence flat-footed. The Seasiders’ backline failed to track Graves as he ran from deep, exchanging passes with two team-mates, before slotting under Campbell for the equaliser on 65 minutes.
Cassidy duly obliged seven minutes later. , with two strikers on the bench, midfielder Sam Hodgson replaced Blackford and McTiernan was pushed up front.
Tymon, who showed some good touches on the rare occasions he got the ball, summed up the frustration at the Turnbull Ground when he needlessly slid through the back of right-back Beardsley, as he shepherded the ball out of play near the corner flag, picking up a yellow card.
With eight minutes remaining, Faichney finally replaced McTiernan and was soon involved in the action. Nothing seemed on when Tymon attempted an optimistic-looking 25-yard lob but Barcherini misjudged the ball and had to claw it wide at full stretch.
But just as Whitby looked to be the likelier side to snatch it, Campbell almost handed the visitors all three points. The 40-year-old cleared straight to Graves under little pressure, but recovered to block from the ex-Burton midfielder and Burgess’ header secured the escape.
However, there was still time for the centre-half to turn villain after conceding a last minute free-kick. But Simpson’s deep cross was nodded wide from well-placed sub Kyle Bryant as much of the crowd breathed a collected sigh of relief.
Cassidy described the afternoon as “very frustrating indeed.”
He added: “The goal we gave away was another defensive error, we didn’t win enough second balls and we didn’t create that much.
“It’s very difficult to pinpoint what’s going wrong. It’s not a fitness thing, it’s a mental thing and it’s got to be put right.”
Asked about coping with the ball in the air against a tall side, the former Workington boss replied: “That’s how they play and we haven’t got the artillery to get the ball down and dictate the play.”
Whitby Town: Campbell D, Marron, White, Hassan, Burgess, Leeson, Martin, McTiernan (Faichney 82), Tymon, Robinson (c), Blackford (Hodgson 72). Subs not used: A Campbell, Lyth, Calvert. Attendance: 243
Co-operative Whitby WTFC man of the match: Kevin Burgess