Jekyll and Hyde Whitby leapfrogged visitors Nantwich into 11th spot after finally ending a dire run of five defeats in six, with a dominant display at the Turnbull Ground on Saturday.
With player-manager Darren Williams recovering from an operation on the top of his leg, assistant boss Dave Campbell took charge, making two changes with Steven Snaith in for Craig Farrell up front and Shane Henry replacing Adam Rundle on the left.
“The game plan was to get at them from the start with a high tempo,” skipper Mark Robinson told the Whitby Gazette, and the Blues did just that, making all the early running.
Inside three minutes, Graeme Armstrong’s speculative 20-yard effort was diverted just wide by Tom Portas, while seconds later, Snaith raced clear only to clip the outside of keeper Steve James’ right-hand post.
James then had to react well, parrying low to his left from Henry’s edge-of-the-box effort and gathering the ball at the second attempt.
Despite their early onslaught, the Seasiders were behind, against the run of play, on eight minutes, when striker Steve Foster dispossessed Lee Bullock on halfway and played in Aaron Burns, who slotted low past right-back Ibby Hassan and goalkeeper Shane Bland.
“It would’ve been easy for heads to go down after that first goal, but our energy overwhelmed them,” said Robinson.
Snaith scuffed narrowly wide with an angled drive after a neat one-touch move, while at the other end, Nick Naughton’s shot from distance was touched wide by Bland and Kev Burgess nodded the corner off his own goal-line.
Town did their stricken manager proud though as they roared back in style on the half-hour. Their two outstanding performers combined as Lee Mason’s driven right-wing free-kick was beautifully back-heeled past James at the near post by Henry.
Naughton’s 20-yard piledriver from nothing was well tipped over by Bland, then it was the Blues’ turn to threaten as Armstrong rounded James, but was pushed to the right-edge of the six-yard box and his cross-shot across the face of goal was hooked clear.
The Seasiders started the second half as they ended the first – “they were blowing a bit,” added Robinson, “we knew they were tired.”
Captain Robinson benefitted on 67 minutes when Town appeared fortunate after Sam Wilson was adjudged to have barged Armstrong over in the box and Robinson slotted home the penalty.
“I said I’m having the next one after Graeme Armstrong missed the last penalty,” Robinson claimed, before adding:
“I think it was a massive boost to the four lads called up by the FA [Portas, Bland, Henry and Mason]- they’re big players for us and by the end, everybody wanted the ball. We could’ve happily played for another 90 minutes.”
Within five, one of the four was on target again. Mason cut in from the right, danced past a series of challenges before unleashing a magnificent strike, across James, from the edge of the box, for 3-1, on 72 minutes.
There was more to come too as Henry put the icing on the cake with nine minutes remaining, converting Mason’s perfect square right-wing ball from point-blank range.
Henry and Snaith then left the field to warm applause, cheers and their names sung loudly by supporters on the far side of the ground, with Rundle and Nathan Mulligan their respective replacements, late on. Ex-Darlington winger Rundle slammed straight at James from 20 yards, within four minutes of his introduction.
“The fans were brilliant.” Robinson concluded, “They’ve stuck by us. It’s been nice to repay them and put smiles on their faces.”
There were cries of “ole” long before Ben Deegan converted the rebound after Bland blocked with his legs from Deegan’s fellow substitute Peter Green, two minutes from time. At one point, Town zipped around twenty passes across the field as the visitors chased shadows for much of the game.
Their afternoon was crowned unceremoniously when defender Andy Pearson was red-carded for shoving Mulligan near the far touchline, moments after the full-time whistle.
Robinson dedicated the win to the popular Williams, who has been inundated with online messages of support from Blues followers all week.
Robinson revealed: “Cammy reminded us at the start how much Darren does for us and that we owed it to him to put in a performance.”
Whitby Town: Bland, Hassan, Robinson (c), Bullock, Burgess, McTiernan, Portas, Mason, Armstrong, Snaith (Mulligan 81), Henry (Rundle 81). Subs not used: Farrell, Pell, Campbell (GK).
Co-operative Whitby WTFC Man of the Match: Lee Mason
Whitby Town 4 Nantwich Town 2