A last-gasp goal from new signing Luke Bythway earned Whitby Town a share of the points at Hednesford Town, on Saturday.
Boss Chris Hardy made one change, with last season’s runaway top scorer Mikey Roberts replaced by ex-Middlesbrough star Cameron Park, as the Seasiders packed the midfield with Matty Tymon their lone striker and this season’s leading marksman, Dale Hopson, appearing to be afforded a free role.
Hednesford are tipped by many to challenge at the business end of the Northern Premier League and they threatened within seconds of kick-off. It was Tristian Dunkley who sped forward and grazed the crossbar with a rising effort from distance.
Shane Bland then held at the second attempt, from the same player, at the near post.
For Whitby, Park released Callum Martin down the right and he crossed to the far post for Hopson to head onto the roof of the net.
On eight minutes, Sean Geddes, one of Hednesford’s summer signings, from Stourbridge, forced Bland to clutch low down with a 16-yard shot.
The hosts, relegated from the Conference North in April, came close again on 13 minutes when Cohen Brammall crossed from the left for Ashley Sammons to power a seven-yard header wide.
Dunkley slipped a low drive past Bland’s left-hand post from the edge of the box before the men in white created their best opening yet, midway through the first half.
A deep right-wing cross found a completely unmarked Tom Thorley who sent a looping header goalwards, forcing Jamie Poole to nod off his own goal-line and Bland saved spectacularly point-blank from Sammons’ follow-up.
George Carline headed straight at Bland before a frenetic last five minutes of the half.
First, Sammons sidefooted an angled, 18-yard shot across Bland and against the foot of the ex-Middlesbrough keeper’s right-hand post.
Adam Gell instinctively passed the rebound back to Kieran Weledji, with the ball bouncing off the defender and another shot being charged down as a result.
Seconds later, at the other end, Dan Crane smothered Hopson’s awkward skidding effort, then play flew back to the Whitby box where Bland saved with his legs from Brammall’s left-wing near post drive.
The Blues broke quickly and Tymon brilliantly released Dan McWilliams, Brammall’s opposite number, to bring a good block with his legs, from Crane, one-on-one, on the edge of the Hednesford penalty area. Soon after, Bland tipped away Sammons’ shot from distance, on the break.
Hardy introduced attacking midfielder Curtis Round, in place of Gell, at half-time, with skipper Steven Snaith dropping a little deeper to compensate.
Five minutes into the restart, Sammons came close from 18 yards, then soon after, Martin overlapped down the right and crossed for the stretching Hopson to turn just wide.
On 57 minutes, Carline’s bicycle kick, across the face of goal, from a right-wing corner, was well watched by Bland as it passed his left-hand post.
Whitby remained a threat and may well have led themselves on the hour when Martin cut in off the right and fed Round whose deflected low shot looped up over Crane and struck the crossbar.
Bythway replaced Park on 65 minutes, adding physical presence in behind Tymon, but it was Hednesford who remained on the attack.
Only a last ditch Poole tackle denied Sammons, with the big Blues defender then furiously remonstrating towards the linesman for keeping his flag down against two home players following a neat, chipped ball into the box.
Just after seeing defender James Mutton force into the Whitby net, only for a foul to be given, against the Pitmen in the build-up, home boss Liam McDonald swapped his strike pairing for another as Joel Logan and Gurjit Singh replaced Sammons and Dunkley.
Carline’s first-time shot from the edge of the Blues’ box went narrowly over, before Hopson fed Bythway, who mimicked Carline’s effort with a rising crack at goal.
The breakthrough then arrived, with 82 minutes on the clock. Carline squared from the right for Logan to sidestep two challenges just inside the Blues penalty area, before slotting into the bottom-right corner of the net.
Singh then had an opportunity, from similar range, within seconds, but scuffed low past Bland’s right-hand post.
Hardy threw Roberts on for Hopson and it looked to have paid dividends when the nippy frontman was released by Round and beat Crane with an angled shot from the right edge of the home box, only for the ball to clip the experienced keeper’s right-hand post.
Whitby never gave up though and midway through four minutes of injury time got their reward when a ball from the right was laid off by Roberts for Bythway to steer through a crowded six yard box and low past Crane for his first Blues goal.
Whitby Town FC: Bland, Martin, McWilliams, Weledji, Poole, May, Gell (Round 46), Hopson (Roberts 86), Park (Bythway 65), Tymon, Snaith. Subs not used: Hume, Dawson (GK).
Man of the match: Shane Bland- outstanding saves late in the first half combined with brave keeping from crosses kept the score blank at the break.