Depleted Whitby Town were denied by three late goals in 13 minutes as second-placed Fylde completed an early-season double over Darren Williams’ men, on Saturday.
The Blues’ player-manager told the Whitby Gazette: “I said to the lads that we didn’t press them, we didn’t pressure them.”
Williams, who brought back defender Ibby Hassan for the semi-fit Richard Pell, following a one-match suspension, was banned from the dugout himself, after an opening day skirmish.
The ex-Sunderland star also felt losing both strikers by half-time did little to help Whitby’s chances.
“Having to make the two changes unsettled us,” he said.
“There was nothing we could do about it. Army [Graeme Armstrong] was struggling to move by half-time.
“We didn’t have that aerial threat and it pushed us onto the back foot.”
Even with Craig Farrell and Armstrong on the pitch, Town were cut open inside nine minutes when Matty Blinkhorn – a thorn in the Blues’ side at the Turnbull five weeks earlier – headed against the Whitby crossbar from Michael Barnes’ left-wing cross.
The Lancashire coastal side dictated play but stubborn defending kept them at bay until a fortunate spot-kick shocked the title-chasers, around the half-hour.
It was Lee Mason who strode forward then went down just inside the box, but despite a lack of concerted appeals – even Mason himself made little fuss – Town were awarded a spot-kick and Farrell made no mistake from 12 yards, to delight the travelling fans.
More misfortune for the hosts followed as they expertly reconstructed Blinkhorn’s earlier miss.
Barnes again supplied the cross, but it was Harry Winter, cast in the villain’s role this time, who once more grazed the Whitby bar.
By now, Steven Snaith had been warming up on the touchline, beside the Blues’ dugout for some time, with an ominously early substitution imminent.
Farrell jogged off, a minute before the break with what Williams later revealed was a groin pull.
Worse was to follow for the Seasiders as Armstrong, Town’s top scorer with 11 goals this term, failed to return for the second half.
No-one has scored more from open play in the Northern Premier League, this season, than the talismanic front-man, so it was a heavy blow for the Blues when a knock to his knee earlier in the match kept him benched for the second half.
Nathan Mulligan, last year’s 18-goal leading marksman, took Armstrong’s place up front at the interval.
The Blues were under pressure at the other end, eight minutes into the restart, with Shane Bland pulling off a flying save to tip over Winter’s goal-bound header.
A clumsy challenge then gave Adam Rundle the opportunity to test Bland’s opposite number, Ben Hinchcliffe, but the ex-Darlington winger blasted high over the bar from just outside the penalty area.
Bland was called back into service on the hour and clutched low to his right from Caspar Hughes.
With Williams in Fylde’s low-level main stand, assistants Dave Campbell and Dennis Wheeler then made their final change as Tom Portas continued his recovery from a hamstring problem, replacing Rundle.
However, the momentum remained with Fylde who hit the woodwork for a third time when Matty Hughes headed against the outside of Bland’s right-hand post from point-blank range, with Barnes again the provider.
There was a touch of inevitability then as the home side’s luck changed with just 14 minutes remaining.
Danny Lloyd, who’d only been on the pitch nine minutes after replacing Caspar Hughes, got goal side of Kev Burgess then quickly went to ground and referee Nicholas Barnard had no hesitation in evening things up with a penalty for Dave Challinor’s men.
Portas was booked for encroaching into the 18-yard box as the kick took an age to be taken, Burgess and Campbell on the touchline were insistent the powerful centre-half had made a clean tackle.
Eventually full-back Adam Sumner stepped up, keeping his nerve to send Bland the wrong way and level.
Disaster then struck within two minutes as Lee Bullock’s blind backpass was seized upon by Blinkhorn who slid past the onrushing Bland.
Despite throwing players forward, Town struggled to carve out any clear-cut opportunities and Fylde wrapped things up a minute from time, on the break, as the visitors’ offside trap failed and Blinkhorn raced clear, before teeing up Lloyd for a tap in.
AFC Fylde: Hinchliffe, Hankin, Sumner, M Hughes, Russell, C Hughes (Lloyd 69), Winter, B. Barnes, M. Barnes (Dorney 85), Blinkhorn, Mahon. Subs not used: Charnley, Denson, Booth.
Whitby Town: Bland, Hassan, Robinson (c), Burgess, Bullock, McTiernan, Henry, Mason, Armstrong (Mulligan 46), Farrell (Snaith 44), Rundle (Portas 60). Subs not used: Cook (GK), Pell.
AFC Fylde 3 Whitby Town 1