Whitby Town ‘lethargic’ in opening day defeat

Kev Burgess leaps highest against Darlington
Kev Burgess leaps highest against Darlington

Whitby Town lost out following their near-200-mile opening day jaunt to formerly Southern Premier League Stourbridge.

The West Midlands side were transferred to the Evo-Stik NPL in the summer after successive fifth placed finishes and showed their qualities in a deserved victory on Saturday.

Town handed league debuts to midfield trio Matthew Waters, previously a striker at Middlesbrough, Whitby-born Matty Brown and the scorer of the previous week’s winner against Scarborough, Liam Shepherd.

The hosts showed first on seven minutes as Drew Canavan’s left-wing cross was headed narrowly wide by skipper Sean Geddes. Next, it was Kyle Haynes’ turn to cross, from the right, this time, for Geddes to smash a 20-yard effort that forced a terrific tip over from keeper Shane Bland.

The direct home side eventually broke the deadlock on 18 minutes after Ben Billingham tricked his way down the left flank and teed up Jordan Fitzpatrick to poke into the roof of the net.

Bigger, stronger and dominating possession, Stourbridge – known as the Glassboys due to the local area’s manufacture of glasswear – seemed destined to extend their lead before the interval.

Constant pressure culminated in Fitzpatrick going clear inside the six-yard box, only to scuff straight at Bland from an acute angle. Then at the other end, towering Kristian Ramsey-Dixon trod on the ball and left Whitby’s Craig Farrell clear one-on-one with Dean Coleman, but the home keeper got down to parry despite the ex-York marksman having time to pick his spot.

A succession of Whitby corners came to nothing before Bland brilliantly denied the hosts a second goal, moments before the break. It was Geddes’ right-footed free-kick, just in from the left touchline, dummied by Billingham on the edge of the six box, then astonishingly touched wide by Bland in a split-second after standing un-sighted. That could have been a turning point as the interval came not a second too soon for the Seasiders.

“One nil down was probably a fair reflection,” admitted assistant manager Dave Campbell. “We just said get your fingers out and put some energy in and it paid dividends in the second half.”

It certainly did as the Blues began with purpose and levelled matters within eight minutes of the restart.

There has been much talk of Town’s versatility in the middle of the park and so it proved as left winger Shepherd popped up on the right and cut in from the touchline before smashing an angled drive past Coleman from the edge of the penalty area.

Bland fended away Billingham’s vicious left-foot effort from similar range and vicious was also the word when Burgess and the hosts’ number 10 clashed soon after.

Town’s talismanic centre-half was carrying the ball over the halfway line with the forward snapping at his heels, before kicking out at him in frustration. Referee Neil Radford gave Whitby the free-kick and booked Billingham, taking no action against the ex-Darlington defender, much to the locals’ annoyance and the Blues’ relief.

Billingham almost claimed a measure of revenge midway through the second half with a curling free-kick that Brown headed across the face of goal, but out of the reach of any red shirts. Whitby’s Matty Brown then made way for Sam Calvert as Town’s two local lads swapped, while Bland beat out Fitzpatrick’s effort on the turn as the hosts got back on top.

With 12 minutes left, Anth Callaghan made a debut on the left flank, in a straight swap for Shepherd and Farrell came close with a well-struck half-volley on the turn, but Will Richards threw himself in front of the ball to block, just inside the 18-yard box.

Play then spilled to the other end as the ball was worked into the path of Geddes who let fly from similar range and gave Bland no chance with an emphatic finish.

By now, Burgess had picked up a yellow card and when sub Josh Morgan-Parker ran at the big Blue and went to ground just outside the Town box, much of the ground was baying for an early bath for the Whitby star.

But Mr Radford disagreed and took no action other than awarding a free-kick just to the right of the area.

Two minutes from time, Farrell had one last half-chance to sneak a point, but the frontman curled just wide from distance.

Campbell told the Whitby Gazette: “I thought we were poor in the first half – too slow and didn’t move the ball quickly enough. We came out and got a well-worked goal but then we gave their lad too much room inside our own box and he’s slotted home.

“I don’t know why we looked so lethargic and tired, it’s the first game of the season so energy should be high but we were flat.”

Campbell, who joked that he wished the half-time team talk had come at the beginning of the match, added: “We never changed formation or the style of play but the enthusiasm was much better in the second half.

“They were big lads, but we dealt with that, I don’t think that was the problem at all. We’re going to have to deal with that every week in this league, but we’re a footballing team and we’ve got to be quicker so they can’t get near.”

Whitby Town: Bland, Hassan, Robinson (c) (Pell 88), Burgess, Bullock, Waters, Brown (Calvert 70), Gardner, Farrell, Mason, Shepherd (Callaghan 78). Subs not used: Poole, Campbell (GK). Attendance: 415. Man of the Match: Shane Bland.