Bottom club Belper played like anything but, in a dramatic battle at the Turnbull Ground on Saturday, only for Whitby to snatch a draw right at the end.
Robert Nolan, introduced in the second half, was on hand to drill through a ruck of players from the edge of the penalty area, five minutes into injury time, to grab his first Blues goal and a share of the spoils.
Former Hartlepool United star James Brown also notched his first Whitby Town strike and with Steven Snaith also on target, player-manager Darren Williams was happy for his front men.
“It’s great that all three forwards scored”, he told the Whitby Gazette.
“Browny’s been itching for a goal and he’s done everything but.
“Rob’s been pushing for a start and he’s come on to get us an equaliser and I know Steven’s been chomping at the bit too, so it’s great that they’ve got a goal apiece.”
However, the hosts started slowly as Williams himself replaced midfielder Liam Shepherd, against a physical Belper side led by ex-Grantham manager Jimmy Albans.
Niall Doran missed out completely after a tyre blow out on the way up resulted in him arriving late.
The Derbyshire outfit were playing the better football, belying their lowly position - 13 points from safety at kick-off - and testing Shane Bland inside three minutes as the ex-Middlesbrough man saved low to his left from Jon Froggatt’s downward header.
Overlapping left-back Scott Matthews then slammed narrowly wide from the edge of the box before Whitby should have fallen further behind on 14 minutes. The impressive Jason Stokes’ left-wing cross was flicked against the inside of Bland’s left-hand post with Richard Pell then hitting Bland with his attempted clearance as the ball flew over the Blues’ bar.
But the same combination for Belper, weren’t to be denied, midway through the half when Stokes’ driven left-wing ball was guided into the roof of the net by veteran former boss Froggatt.
Within three minutes, the lead was doubled as Williams slid in rashly near the byline on Stokes.
The resulting free-kick, moved nearly 15 yards to the fringes of the penalty area, was fired towards the near post, by Jamie McGhee, where Michael Towey beat Bland to nod home.
The Seasiders finally threatened on the half hour when Ian Ross, inside the six yard box, somehow headed Kev Burgess’ downward glance wide, nearly catching out keeper Danny Haystead at his left-hand post.
Five minutes before the break came a crucial goal back for the Blues.
Bland bowled out over-arm to Dale Hopson, who raced 40 yards into the Belper half, sliding in Brown, who side-footed first-time between Haystead and his other post.
Williams limped off, reportedly inflaming a long-term calf injury with the challenge on Stokes. Lee Mason, fresh from a three match suspension, came into Blues’ midfield.
Pell almost levelled two minutes before the break, but the beanpole defender’s downward header, from a left-wing cross, was blocked at the far post and he was adjudged to have handled the rebound.
Williams again found himself reading the riot act at half-time.
“We didn’t perform in the first half.” he said. “We weren’t up to it, we were all over the shop and then in the second half, we were a completely different team.”
Five minutes into the restart, Hopson’s drilled right-wing ball narrowly eluded Mason, on the opposite side of the box, following a bright build-up. Another Hopson break then resulted in a charged down effort from the edge of the area.
Paul Grimes, one of Albans’ former Grantham favourites, poked just over from similar range, at the other end before Williams introduced Nolan for Brown up front.
Within two minutes, Whitby levelled as Nolan and Hopson exchanged passes, with the latter firing a low goalbound effort that Haystead could only palm out, full-stretch to his right, for Snaith to tap in point-blank.
However, they said a team is most vulnerable right after they’ve scored and so it proved as the Nailers went back in front, within two more minutes. Stokes was left in acres of space on the left edge of the Blues box, crossing for Grimes who headed back across goal for Towey to blast across Bland and inside his left-hand post. Grimes fired another powerful warning shot, just over the top, 12 minutes from time then Haystead pulled off a terrific stop, low to his left, to keep out Hopson’s driven 20-yard free-kick.
“It was frustrating,” Williams added. “The team in general, we just didn’t seem to defend.
“It’s awkward playing against a team like Belper, it’s more of a battlefield than a football field, but that’s no disrespect to them, it took us a long time to get to grips with everything.”
Williams threw on Matthew Waters for the final two minutes but it was to be in the last of five minutes injury that the Blues got back onto level terms.
After a string of scrambles, Whitby won a right-wing corner with even Bland waved into the Belper box. McTiernan’s ball was worked to Pell at the back post, his header was blocked as far as Nolan on the edge of the penalty area. The former Blyth hit man took aim and drilled low to Haystead’s left, through a crowded box, on the volley, to find the net and almost bring the house down.
Williams concluded that the previous week’s postponement at Nantwich may have affected Saturday’s display.
“We looked under par, but maybe that’s down to the lay off we’ve had,” he said.
Whitby Town: Bland, Hassan, Robinson (Waters 87), Burgess, Pell, McTiernan, Williams (Mason 41), Hopson, Brown (Nolan 62), Snaith, King. Subs not used: Bullock, Shepherd.
Co-operative Whitby WTFC Man of the Match: Dale Hopson
Whitby Town 3 Belper 3