Three goals in the last four minutes saw the Seasiders throw away a winning position at title-chasing Skelmersdale on Saturday.
The defeat leaves Whitby clinging to tenth spot and continue to trail the magic fifth place needed for a play-off berth by five points.
Captain Mark Robinson refused to use the side’s three week fixture black-out as an excuse for the late capitulation, however.
“We knew they were unbeaten at home and we’d lost just one in 17, so you’d think it was a nailed on draw.” he said.
“I’d have been devastated with a point though. They maybe thought we were vulnerable late in the game and pushed on.”
Whitby Town player-manager Darren Williams kept an unchanged side from that which won 3-0 at Stocksbridge Park Steels, nearly a month earlier.
There were signs of rustiness among the Town players early on as their West Lancashire hosts started the stronger. Adam Morning hooked over from the edge of the Whitby box inside five minutes and soon after, Shane Bland had to be alert to block Chris Simm’s angled drive with his legs.
There was even better to come from the former Middlesbrough goalkeeper who reacted brilliantly to keep Neil Prince’s ferocious 20-yard free-kick away from the top-right corner of the net.
Whitby then began to threaten and only a last ditch Kenny Strickland clearance prevented Graeme Armstrong from breaking the deadlock for Town. But the noisy travelling contingent were soon celebrating as Adam Rundle’s inswinging right-wing corner was headed into the roof of the net by Armstrong, for his 24th goal of the season.
This only seemed to irritate the home side however, who levelled within three minutes. A fine one-touch move saw Simm escape down the right flank with Skelmersdale having two on two, as the former Chester man played in Morning, who squeezed the ball between Bland and the youngster’s left-hand post.
Bland then tipped over from Prince’s swerving 25-yard strike, while at the other end, Armstrong chested down a deep left-wing cross before firing into the side netting.
Bland, on his way to play in the US on a four-year scholarship at the end of the season, then touched over Prince’s goalbound effort after a quickfire break.
The Seasiders ended the half strongly though as Armstrong turned marker Tom Hardwick superbly but slammed just wide from the edge of the area and Farrell did likewise with home defenders screaming for handball.
Early in the second period, Morning hooked over from the left-edge of the box, with Simm also clearing the crossbar from point-blank range, though the offside flag saved the ex-Chester marksman’s blushes.
Just as in the first period though, Town took advantage of their hosts’ profligacy in front of goal and re-took the lead on 62 minutes.
It was Armstrong who released Nathan Mulligan down the left wing and he squared for Farrell to stroke past Hibbert unchallenged, with Skem’s offside calls ignored.
Williams then freshened up with Henry replacing Rundle within seconds of the goal. Seven minutes later, another lively midfield man Lee Mason came on for Mulligan.
Farrell also received warm applause from the away supporters, numbering a healthy 50-plus for a cross-pennine journey, as he made way for fellow forward Steven Snaith, with fifteen minutes remaining.
The increasingly-desperate home side, promoted as First Division North champions last season, responded with direct running, using the flanks at every opportunity and winning a succession of set pieces. Williams angrily turned and kicked out at his dugout. “Stay on your feet” he yelled at the offenders. Finally, the free-kicks proved costly and United levelled with four minutes remaining. Substitute Tom Ince, on for Prince seven minutes into the second-half, curled a central 20-yarder past Bland, who appeared to let the ball go, thinking it was going wide, instead it nestled between keeper and right-hand post.
“He probably should’ve saved it.” Robinson claims, quickly adding: “but I won’t say anything against him because of the way he played.”
Indeed, the keeper’s name was read out as Town’s man of the match just seconds before, but within two minutes he was picking the ball out of his net for a third time.
Ince’s deft lob from the left-edge of the penalty area was tipped onto the underside of the bar by the back-pedalling Whitby number one, only for Dean Astbury to turn into the roof of the net from six yards.
Their tails up, the two minutes injury time belonged to Tommy Lawson’s men as Astbury took advantage of Town’s push for a leveller, racing clear to round Bland and slot home right at the end.
Robinson revealed: “It hurt everyone. From management to players, there were words said, it means a lot to people. “But it shows how far we’ve come to be angry after losing to the second-place team who were unbeaten at home.”
Skelmersdale United: Hibbert, Strickland, Holden, Hardwick (c), Wylie, Dunn, Morning (Miller 70), Burton, Astbury, Simm, Prince (Ince 52). Subs not used: McIntosh, Field, Greene.
Whitby Town: Bland, Hassan, Robinson (c), Bullock, Pell, McTiernan, Portas, Mulligan (Mason 69), Armstrong, Farrell (Snaith 75), Rundle (Henry 62). Subs not used: Williams, Campbell(GK).