Dale Hopson’s drive from distance was the sole piece of magic in a dour final league game of the season, at the Turnbull Ground.
The midfielder’s 31st goal of the season ensured a sixth placed finish for the Blues, their best in ten years and signalling a marked improvement after four last-day relegation escapes in that time. Hopson himself was later honoured after the match with a clean sweep at the club’s end-of-season awards. The ex-Huddersfield star took the Internet Player, Supporters’ Player, Players’ Player and leading scorer accolades, alongside his Evo-Stik NPL Fans Group player of the season prize.
Whitby manager Chris Hardy made two changes from the side that lost heavily at Blyth Spartans to signal the end of their play-off charge, on Easter Monday. Mark Robinson returned to join Andrew May and Kieran Weledji in a three-man Blues defence, as Lee Bullock was rested and left-wing-back Danny McWilliams replaced Anthony Bell.
Hednesford skipper Tom Thorley fired narrowly over, early on, with Danny Glover then heading against the crossbar and Shane Bland doing well to tip over Bradley Peace-McDonald’s nodded follow-up point-blank. The visitors looked much the brighter before half-time and almost struck when McWilliams cleared against Joe Ballinger, who brought a block with his shins from Bland with the rebound.
Bland pushed wide from Thorley’s 25-yard free-kick with Steven Snaith hammering across the face for a flat home side. However, after the interval, Hopson lit up the game with an unstoppable shot into the top-right corner from 20 yards. 19 minutes from time, Matty Tymon lifted one onto the frame of the visitors’ goal from the edge of the box before Hopson’s low 25-yarder was blocked on the line by defender Gavin Hurren.
Mikey Roberts replaced Anthony Hume up front and almost doubled the Seasiders’ advantage, in the final minute. The tricky marksman’s attempted lob was just held on his line by backtracking goalkeeper Lloyd Ransome.
The final whistle brought warm applause from a near-350-strong crowd, no doubt including some who returned after last week’s bumper Pay What You Want gate of almost 500. While the entertainment was far from Easter Saturday’s thriller with Warrington and there was a definite end-of-season feel, Blues can be very proud of a campaign that saw them finish just two points adrift of a play-off spot. That’s an improvement of 13 places on last season and supporters may yet see a trophy lifted, when the Seasiders tackle neighbours Pickering Town, at the Riverside Stadium, on Monday May 15th.
Whitby Town: Bland, Martin, McWilliams, May, Weledji, Robinson, Snaith, Gell (Fryatt 55), Hume, Tymon (Roberts 86), Hopson. Subs not used: Bell, Bullock, Dixon (GK).
Hednesford Town: Ransome, Wright, Danquah, Peace-McDonald, Hurren, Ballinger, Martin, Thorley (McNaught 85), Glover, Washbourne (Nadat76), Cater (Nesbitt 89). Subs not used: Crane, Fitzpatrick.
Co-operative WTFC Man of the Match: Dale Hopson- Summed up his season with the game’s one piece of magic- a ferocious winner from distance.
Match Sponsor: Ebison Safety Solutions, Whitby
Matchball Sponsor: Ray Hare Builders, Aislaby