JAMIE Clarke’s 44th minute penalty was enough to settle a scrappy encounter at bottom club Burscough on Saturday, writes Andrew Snaith.
The 38-year-old marksman admitted the game was “not pretty”, but added: “We battled well and stayed together - three points are three points, however you get them.
“At this stage, it’s not really about performances, it’s all about results.”
That’s lucky for Darren Williams’ men who rode their luck at times, as both sides struggled on Victoria Park’s uneven pitch, beneath an awkward swirling wind.
The Blues boss made one change from the side that lost 2-0 to Hednesford seven days earlier.
One former Darlington player replaced another on the left wing as Jeff Smith came in for Nathan Mulligan.
Town threatened as early as the second minute when Jimmy Beadle’s powerful first-time shot from the edge of the box cleared the home crossbar by mere inches.
Tom Portas then came even closer with a free-kick just inside the Whitby half, floated diagonally goalwards, which bounced over all those in a crowded Burscough box and just a coat of paint away from goalkeeper Craig Ellison’s left-hand post.
Around the half-hour came a neat metaphor for the standard of play for most of the afternoon, as Town keeper Nick Liversedge found a patch of dog dirt in the penalty area as he prepared to take a goal-kick. With most of the players wandering over to the dugout for drinks and possible tactical reinforcement, Burscough official Mel Singleton was despatched to remove the offending article.
With the match back under way, the West Lancashire outfit, 15 points adrift at the bottom of the Evo-Stik Premier, almost grabbed the lead.
Will Jones should have done better seven minutes before half-time as he bore down on goal. But once the young frontman reached the Blues’ six-yard box, defender Ibby Hassan’s presence and the pressure of the situation, seemed to combine and he poked wide as Liversedge came to narrow the acute angle.
The Linnets then had a right-wing corner tamely headed over at the far post by centre-half Danny Murphy. Despite these opportunities for the hosts, the ball had actually spent much of its time in Whitby’s possession and the Burscough half, only for misdirected passes, mainly high into the air or out of play and repeated offside calls to frustrate the visitors.
It took a moment of solo excellence to bring the breakthrough, a minute before half-time. Ex-Hartlepool striker Andy Appleby ran from deep with a good advantage played as a defender clipped his heels. The lively forward stayed on his feet and raced into the penalty area where he tried to round the onrushing Ellison and a nearby defender, who appeared to be holding his shirt, before hitting the ground.
The resulting spot-kick was surprisingly not accompanied by a yellow card for either the penalised challenge or the earlier studs down the heel effort that Appleby shrugged off. But more importantly, Jamie Clarke stepped up and, undeterred by Town’s last two penalties being missed by Beadle and skipper Mark Robinson, drilled low to Ellison’s left for the opening goal.
Burscough boss Derek Goulding must have had some choice words for his charges at the interval as the boys in green made all the early running. Eight minutes into the restart, they came painfully close to levelling the scores in bizarre fashion. A long punt over the top struck Jones on the top of his head, while standing 20 yards from goal, and grazed the crossbar as Liversedge desperately back-pedalled.
Too often shapeless, the Blues appeared to be badly missing player-manager Williams on the strangely undulating surface, but the defensive midfielder, so often a steadying on-field influence, seemed happy to direct traffic from the dugout, alongside assistant and fellow sub Dave Campbell.
The oft-vocal Clarke then received the first yellow card of the match after angrily disputing yet another offside call against him, after opting to rant at the referee rather than the linesman, who gave the decision. Beadle’s unconvincing 25-yard potshot was nearer the corner flag than the net and finally ended up rolling apologetically for a throw-in. It turned out to be the midfielder’s final act as Town’s six-goal joint-top scorer made way for Mulligan on 75 minutes.
Appleby came a lot closer soon after, following Clarke’s neat through ball. However, despite taking the pass in his stride, the hard-working 26-year-old tried too hard to craft a shot for his left foot and Murphy got in at the last moment to clear.
Four minutes from time, Clarke was withdrawn before he could talk himself into a second booking and the versatile Andy Leeson took his spot as a very deep-lying forward. But any limited action was taking place at the other end as Ben Whitcombe snatched at two free hits with Town’s defence sat right back and bravely blocking both efforts.
However, Jones had a much better opportunity, forcing Kevin Burgess to head over his own crossbar, a minute from time. The corner was then nodded well off target by a well-placed Murphy, at the far post.
Whitby’s third substitute Ashley Lyth, on for Portas, had just enough time to be booted in the knee by a midfield adversary, who gave the characteristic footballer’s look of feigned shock at being pulled up.
At the final whistle, Town had certainly booted their village opponents’ chances of survival into touch- a 17-point shortfall and -80 goal difference means only off-field problems for clubs higher in the pyramid could save the former FA Trophy winners.
For the third-bottom Seasiders, it was a welcome and hugely important three points, especially given the teams previously on either side of them, Buxton and Mickleover, also recorded narrow wins. But victory should also come with a warning that Saturday’s trip to seventh-placed Marine will require a significant improvement if Town’s impressive four-in-five away run is to continue.
Whitby Town: Liversedge, Hassan, Robinson (c), White, Burgess, McTiernan, Portas (Lyth 89), Beadle (Mulligan 75), Clarke (Leeson 86), Appleby, Smith. Subs not used: Williams, D Campbell (GK). Attendance: 135