‘Massively improved’ Blues win Mickey Skinner Trophy

Blues' skipper Mark Robinson (left) and the match officials walk out to a vicious downpour on Saturday'picture: Brian Murfield
Blues' skipper Mark Robinson (left) and the match officials walk out to a vicious downpour on Saturday'picture: Brian Murfield

AFTER a 5-2 humbling just four days earlier at Pickering, Whitby Town netted five of their own to see off former Northern League rivals Guisborough Town on Saturday.

Darren Williams’ men scored four times in the second half to take the Mickey Skinner Trophy, in a performance the player-manager described as a “massive improvement”.

Guisborough Town chairman Dr Stephen Hill presents Whitby Town's Tom Portas with the Mickey Skinner Trophy 'picture: Yvonne Barker

Guisborough Town chairman Dr Stephen Hill presents Whitby Town's Tom Portas with the Mickey Skinner Trophy 'picture: Yvonne Barker

Williams handed a debut to 18-year-old striker Nathan Evans, a former Newcastle United junior, though it was the Priorymen, celebrating their club’s 40th anniverary with a new red and white kit identical to their first-ever, who threatened early on.

Austin Johnston sliced well wide from a good position and within seconds, Nathan Steel twisted and turned but could only poke off target himself - both chances created inside the opening nine minutes.

Evans repeated the dose at the other end and former Darlington FC forward, Nathan Mulligan, saw a shot blocked after goalkeeper Dan Dixon spilled the ball at his feet.

Mulligan then had another effort ricochet off a home defender, but Dixon got back to catch comfortably in the end.

As Whitby took control, the diminutive striker should have broken the deadlock after Graeme Armstrong pulled the ball back from the byline, only for the 25-year-old hitman to drill wide.

However it was just seconds before the visitors led as Mulligan turned provider, chasing down ex-Blue Craig Bishop and forcing a mistake from the left-back turned centre-half.

The in-form frontman then set up Dave McTiernan to volley emphatically past Dixon from the edge of the penalty area.

The two division gap looked more and more evident as the Blues stroked the ball around confidently after their opening goal.

Midway through the half, former Guisborough midfielder Tom Portas released Mulligan, whose goalbound shot brought a top-drawer save from Dixon.

The resulting deep Mulligan corner was headed into Dixon’s hands by Kev Burgess, up from the back. Dixon clung on at the second attempt.

On 36 minutes, Guisborough’s nervous defence were dispossessed again near to goal, with Armstrong then stroking against Dixon’s right-hand post.

The rebound fell to Mulligan, who went for an unconvincing placement from a tough angle, enabling Dixon to parry well at his feet.

McTiernan’s attempted lob cleared Dixon and the frame of the goal, four minutes before the break, after good work from Evans and the Priorymen could even have levelled, but for Johnston nodding over at the near post.

Williams confirmed Nick Liversedge is still his number one keeper, but revealed he had “a scenario” for Ben Escritt, who replaced Liversedge at the interval.

Danny Earl flashed a close-range header wide, before heavy thunder rain caused the referee to take the players off for safety reasons, presumably, as lightning forked towards the covered terracing that straddles the halfway line.

Farcically, the delay lasted barely two minutes, as the away side refused to leave the pitch.

The decision was perhaps justified when Whitby doubled their lead, five minutes after the restart. Portas tricked his way into a good position down the left and drilled the ball across the six-yard goal and perfectly for Armstrong to drill home his first goal in the blue and white.

Cue a raft of changes in quick succession as left-sided defender Craig James replaced Burgess at centre-half, then trialist Harrison Davis, formerly at Sunderland RCA, came on for Evans down the left wing. Winger Danny Lambert and Steve Snaith swapped with Williams and Mulligan respectively.

Just after the hour, Portas scored the inevitable goal against his old club, firing low past Dixon from 20 yards and beating the vocal gloveman at his right-hand post. Guisborough substitute James Decosemo then waltzed between Portas and McTiernan, setting Earl clear, who sent a poor effort straight at Escritt.

Lambert gave his manager a headache around five minutes from time after twisting his knee and forcing Mulligan to return to the field. It then looked even less like Whitby’s day when Armstrong’s powerful drive was tipped onto his own crossbar by Dixon.

But with a minute left, as the blue tide continued to swarm forward, Snaith’s driven right-wing cross was poked home almost-nonchalantly by Davies, who’d trotted in from the left.

And if that wasn’t enough for the healthy contingent of 40-50 Blues supporters, there was even time for a fifth in injury time, when Armstrong’s right-wing cross was smashed onto the underside of the crossbar by Mulligan via Dixon’s neat palm, with the ball striking the unlucky keeper on the back for Mulligan to turn home his seventh pre-season goal, point-blank.

Post-match, Portas was sent forward to collect the trophy, which Whitby had previously defended against Scottish outfit Gretna, two years ago.

Williams was just pleased his charges put in a strong display, he told the Whitby Gazette:

“The importance of a good performance, after Tuesday, was put forward to the lads - it was a case of reminding them why we ended up being successful towards the back end of last season.

“It’s important for us to keep a clean sheet [and] nice to see a few goals go in at the other end and nice to see Graeme Armstrong on the scoresheet.”

Williams, who made 200 appearances for Sunderland, thinks his squad need another couple of players, with the left side of midfield a priority but insists his team are “there or thereabouts” for the coming season.

“We probably need another two players - whether they come from trialists or whether it’s going to be additions to the squad, it’s important we get that done in the next week,” he said.

Highly-rated right-back Ibby Hassan missed out again with a knee injury, but Williams believes he’ll be back for the new campaign on Saturday week, or perhaps even sooner.

“Ibby will be fine - it’s precautionary, it’s pre-season, we don’t need anyone having a prolonged injury,” Williams revealed.

“We will be looking to try and get him some time on the pitch against Bradford PA on Saturday. It would be important that he has a run out.”

Ex-Blyth Spartans midfield schemer Michael Tait, brought in from Ashington, this past summer, is back from holiday now and is expected to feature in that game.

However, Williams continues to look for more new faces, adding: “We’ve got a couple of people who’ve been on the phone - we’re going to have a chat with them.”

Whitby Town: Liversedge, Wilson, Robinson (c), Burgess, White, Portas, McTiernan, Williams, Armstrong, Mulligan, Evans. Subs (all used): Escritt (GK), Snaith, James, Davies, Lambert.

Guisborough Town 0 Whitby Town 5