WHITBY Town climbed out of the Evostik Premier drop zone on Wednesday night, but did it the hard way after a nail-biting win over relegation rivals Stocksbridge in a pulsating contest.
The Blues soared into a two-goal lead but heads dropped as they conceded on the stroke of half-time. When the visitors netted from a free header alarm bells rang but the league’s top scorer Nathan Mulligan saved the day with a late penalty.
Whitby’s first attack was almost a goal of the season contender. Tom Portas was 40 yards from goal when he spotted Steels keeper Leigh Walker off his line and tried an audacious chip which left Walker stranded but bounced off a post.
The visitors from Sheffield should have opened the scoring on 13 minutes when the ball was slipped behind the Whitby backline to Chris Betney, who had an eternity to make up his mind, but chipped the ball carelessly over the bar.
The Blues also fluffed a golden chance to go in front when the Walker spilt the excellent Graeme Armstrong’s drive but Steven Snaith appeared to lose his footing following up from close range as the ball was scuiuffed into the keeper’s arms.
With the pressure building, Craig James’ free-kick after a foul on Armstrong clipped a defender’s head on its way just over the top before the breakthrough arrived on 32 minutes.
Shane Henry created some room to crack home left-footed inside Walker’s near post for a deserved lead. And the advantage was soon doubled four minutes later as Portas won the ball in midfield and fed Mulligan who drilled home despite Walker getting a glove to the ball.
For a brief period, Whitby exuded confidence and everyone wanted the ball but a soft close-range goal from Danny South on the stroke of half-time halved the deficit and some of Darren Williams’ men trudged off despondently at the break.
The start of the second half began promisingly for Whitby as Henry’s header crashed on to the bar from Mulligan’s cross as the hosts looked to restore their two-goal lead but after a lull in the game, it was the away side who netted next.
Nathan Joynes was left in acres of space to nod comfortably home to leave the game wide open.
But a lifeline was offered when referee Stuart Campbell awarded the Blues a penalty, apparently for shirt pulling, which took most of the crowd by surprise. Mulligan was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, slamming his spot-kick low into the corner, despite Walker’s best efforts,
Back in front, Whitby were now looking to consolidate their new-found superiority.
Sub Jamie Clarke could have wrapped up the points from Armstrong’s pinpoint cross but headed the ball across the keeper and wide from a good position.
Full back Ibby Hassan then sought to get in on the act, rampaging forward and, egged on by the home support, tried a 25-yard screamer but it cleared the ground to ironic cheers.
Whitby Town: Liversedge, Hassan, Robinson (c), Burgess, James, McTiernan, Portas, Henry, Snaith (Clarke 73), Armstrong, Mulligan.
Whitby Town 3 Stocksbridge PS 2