SHANE Henry’s stunning strike, 19 minutes from time, helped Town out of the bottom four, after a thrilling second victory over 10th-placed Chorley, last Saturday.
The Lancashire club will be sick of the sight of Darren Williams’ men after again conceding three times and ending up on the losing side at Victory Park - they went down 3-1 to the Blues there in an FA Trophy clash, three months earlier.
Williams made three changes from the 2-2 Boxing Day draw at Blyth, with centre-half Arjun Purewal returning, after making his loan move from Darlington permanent, Dave McTiernan back in midfield, following his one-match suspension and Craig Farrell available again, up front.
The visitors started brightly and took an early lead. Farrell fired past Jack Cudworth from the edge of the box, despite the wrong-footed keeper getting an outstretched leg to the ball.
It was the 30-year-old’s third goal in three games and started with a trademark Tom Portas run from deep and quick pass into the ex-Carlisle forward.
Last season’s third-placed hosts always looked dangerous but were limited to shots from distance, with Nick Liversedge holding onto Darren Stephenson’s 20-yard effort, at the second attempt. Portas caused more trouble for a nervy-looking home defence after latching onto a quickly-taken free-kick and lashing for goal, with the ball cleared off the goal-line.
Stephenson blasted inches over with a fizzing 25-yarder, before Town almost caused their own demise as Purewal’s short back-pass was latched onto by Tom Ince, only for Liversedge to save bravely at the former Burnley winger’s feet.
The same player then directed a snapshot too high to threaten Liversedge, but team-mate John Cunliffe’s six-yard sliding shot, following a long scramble, did force the Whitby keeper to smother low to his right.
Town doubled their lead with an identical strike to the one chalked off at Blyth when the Blues were 2-0 up. It was the impressive Portas again striding forward on 39 minutes and blasting low to Cudworth’s right, the ex-Preston gloveman parrying into Graeme Armstrong’s path, who slotted home point-blank. Armstrong now has three goals from two matches, putting even former Spartans colleague Farrell in the shade.
However, Whitby were unable to hold out until the interval. Seconds from the whistle, Stephenson finally found his shooting boots to sweep low past Liversedge, on the turn, from 20 yards.
So it was a little subdued at the break, in the Blues’ dressing room, as Williams delivered his team-talk.
“I just said: ‘we’ve been fantastic in the first half, we dominated the game and unfortunately we’d had a little blip to allow them to score just before half-time’, which is awkward really, you don’t want to be too down-hearted about it,” he revealed.
“So it was all encouragement at half-time, what we did say to the lads was ‘go and get the next goal, start as we’ve started the game today, continue that and we will win the game’.”
With his manager’s words still fresh in his mind, leading-scorer Nathan Mulligan stroked tamely over the top, from 20 yards - the out-of-sorts striker now without a goal, from open play, for 10 matches. At the other end, Liversedge saved from Ince at his near-post, after another neat Stephenson turn.
Henry then jinked his way down the left, before squaring for Armstrong, but the frontman was leaning back as he picked out the covered terraced behind Cudworth’s goal. The Chorley keeper gathered a tentative Mulligan effort, before his opposite number blocked bravely from Stephenson and Purewal completed the clearance.
Seconds later, Liversedge’s left-hand post denied Stephenson, with Town’s number-one and skipper Mark Robinson both sliding in to charge down the rebound. As the game opened up, Whitby could’ve extended their lead when Henry raced forward to intercept a loose ball on the halfway line, before playing in Armstrong, to the right of the box, but Cudworth parried one-on-one at his near post.
Seconds later, Mulligan connected powerfully from 20 yards and Cudworth had to be alert again to save low down.
The determined Steven Snaith replaced Armstrong with 20 minutes remaining and Blues had their decisive third goal, within moments. The ball went loose, just outside the left-edge of the Chorley penalty area and Henry sped in to drill, first-time, across Cudworth and inside the far post.
“Fantastic strike”, Williams enthused. “I think Shane likes that end, he scored here earlier on in the season. I think a couple of the lads shouted at him ‘no’ when he went to hit it, but when it hits the bottom corner of the net, then fair play to him.”
There was still a long way to go, with 19 minutes, plus injury time, remaining and if the home supporters’ baying at Liversedge, whenever he moved a goal-kick, was anything to go by, it looked like Fergie time to follow at Victory Park.
The game was already running around six minutes late after an injury to one of the linesmen during their pre-match training routine.
Liversedge’s woodwork was positively glowing after Ince broke quickly and grazed the keeper’s right-hand post, after turning the ball across the face of goal, from close range. The lively left-sided talent then brought another fine stop from the Blues stopper, who was coping manfully in challenging conditions for any goalkeeper.
Stephenson was once more denied by Liversedge’s terrific shot-stopping with 10 minutes left. Williams introduced the more defence-minded Ashley Corker for Henry, on Whitby’s left and seconds later, Farrell almost caught Cudworth out with a well-struck 18-yard drive, that the gloveman couldn’t hold, but recovered well to keep out Mulligan’s follow-up.
The manager himself joined proceedings with two minutes left, replacing Dave McTiernan in midfield. Williams’ old friend Garry Flitcroft remained in the dug-out, but at the same time, introduced Ahmadi Porya for Simon Garner, who had started his first game since October.
Chorley fans will be wondering why the swap wasn’t made earlier as the Iranian striker killed the ball from 18 yards with his first touch, before moving inside and curling into the top-left corner, for 3-2.
The substitute nearly levelled after linking up well with Stephenson, during a gut-wrenching five minutes of added time. The Jamaican marksman headed down, for Porya to meet on the left edge of the six yard box, but as he lined up a shot, there was Alex White with a last-ditch slide tackle, to ensure the points were headed east of the Pennines.
After the match, a satisfied Williams told the Whitby Gazette: “We’ve done really well. The lads have worked for it for the full ninety minutes.
“We put in the effort - fantastic graft from everybody.
“I felt we should’ve won the Blyth game, but, in all fairness to the lads, I set them a challenge at Blyth, saying they’ve got to be a 90-minute team. W stood up to the challenge and we’ve done exactly that.”
Whitby Town: Liversedge, Hassan, Robinson (c), White, Purewal, McTiernan (Williams 88), Portas, Henry (Corker 84), Farrell, Armstrong (Snaith 70), Mulligan. Subs not used: Tait, Campbell (GK). Attendance: 553
Chorley 2 Whitby Town 3