WHITBY Town need just one more win to guarantee Evo-Stik Premier football next season after a hard-fought victory thanks to an own goal winner, writes Andrew Snaith.
Saturday’s ‘Pay What You Want’ game at the Turnbull Ground drew one of the highest gates of the season, but it was Ashton’s defence who were most generous when Josh Rose poked into his own net for Town’s decisive second goal.
Blues manager Tommy Cassidy made one change from the side thrashed 5-1 in midweek by champions FC Halifax, with Alex White recovering from a back injury to replace Leon Scott at left-back.
And it was another Whitby defender who came closest to breaking the deadlock inside the first five minutes.
Ibby Hassan forced a good low save from goalkeeper Terry Smith with a well-executed volley from the edge of the box.
The ex-Chester-le-Street centre-half then popped up in the opposition danger area again, bringing another parry from Smith, with a drive on the turn.
Smith then had to react quickly to brush the ball away from the onrushing Whitby forwards while on the ground.
Moments later, Jimmy Beadle looked to have equalled last season’s tally of 15 goals with a close range header, only for Smith to pull off a brilliant reaction tip over the crossbar.
The resulting corner saw Kev Burgess nod over from similiar range.
At the other end, visitors Ashton – who had put together five league wins from six to ease away from the drop zone – threatened for the first time on 37 minutes.
Ryan Crowther, who was Stockport County’s youngest-ever captain at 17 and went on to sign for Liverpool, cut in from the right and drilled a dangerous effort from distance that Dave Campbell did well to clutch low down.
But the Greater Manchester side suffered a real blow within seconds as skipper Craig Robinson limped off with a shin injury.
Early in the second half, Whitby were forced into a change of their own.
White, who had sprinted straight off the pitch during the first half, again left the field hurriedly two minutes after the restart.
Luckily for Whitby, play was halted moments later and they could bring Scott into the game in a straight swap.
Cassidy later said White’s sudden departure was something “he’d never seen before in his life”.
It transpired that the former Stranraer full-back was suffering from suspected food poisoning.
Clear openings were hard to come by on an awkward dry surface, but the Blues finally broke through just before the hour mark.
Dave McTiernan’s driven right-wing cross was slid home at the far post by Burgess, who stayed up following a corner, the ball deflecting in off Ashton defender Carl Frost.
Three minutes later it was 2-0 and again the last touch came from a visiting player.
Under pressure from Beadle, Rose turned a long ball past Smith and into the bottom right corner of his own net.
Matty O’Neill replaced fellow Radcliffe old boy Ian Bennett with 12 minutes left, but it was Sam Madeley’s introduction that made the most impact.
The long-haired ex-Altrincham youngster was first to react after Campbell pulled off a superb reaction block one-on-one with Liam Dawson.
As the ball came to him on the edge of the area, Madeley jumped and rotated his body so he was facing the side.
In the same move, he half-volleyed into the ground, with the ball bouncing up and over a helpless Campbell and into the top of the net.
The youngster caught his next chance on the full, three minutes from time.
But Campbell – twice his age at 40 – got down well to clutch the fearsome 20-yard strike.
The Whitby custodian, closing in on 460 appearances, then had a much easier task to pluck O’Neill’s tame header out of the air and ensure the Blues also held on, for a vital win.
After the match, Cassidy was underwhelmed.
“I thought we were slightly the better team all the way through”, he said.
“But it was a poor standard really, too many players weren’t up for it - five or six did well, five or six didn’t.
“We’ve played better than that and lost, but the result was more important.”
Whitby now need just one win from their remaining three games to be certain of staying up.
Whitby Town: D Campbell, Lyth, White (Scott 47), Hassan, Burgess, Leeson, McTiernan, Hackworth (c), A Campbell, Beadle, Batchelor. Subs not used: Cornforth, Hodgson, Davis, Courtney (GK).
Whitby man of the match: Ibby Hassan
Whitby Town 2 Ashton Utd 1