Whitby’s play-off hopes were ended in savage fashion, on Easter Monday, by an irresistible Blyth side, who had already wrapped up the league title, over a week before.
After his introduction had turned Whitby’s fortunes, in the second half, on Saturday, Chris Hardy handed Anthony Hume a rare league start, in place of Mikey Roberts, up front. However first blood occurred at the other end, inside the opening minute. Town had the kick off but were quickly dispossessed as on-loan Middlesbrough star Luke Armstrong went clear and saw a low drive deflected low to Shane Bland’s right for the opening goal.
Armstrong, the son of Blyth boss and former Boro striker Alun Armstrong, came through the ranks on Teesside, before joining Spartans, then re-signing for Steve Agnew’s side after a campaign that has yielded 21 league goals, all from open play.
Town barely had time to draw breath before Spartans doubled their lead, with just three minutes on the clock. It was Dan Maguire, who has netted 27 times in the NPL, who turned a right-wing cross against the underside of the crossbar and reacted quickest to force home the rebound.
Shell-shocked Whitby attempted to fire back but Kieran Weledji’s far-post downward header, from a Hume cross, was comfortably held low to his right by Blyth’s on-loan Newcastle United keeper Paul Woolston. An offside Hume then lobbed Woolston beautifully but to no avail.
The 13th minute saw Blyth add insult to injury as they chased down the magic 100 point mark. It was Dave McTiernan, Whitby’s third-longest-serving star, who joined Spartans early in the new year, smashing into the roof of the net, from 20 yards, after Bland punched away a long ball forward ahead of team-mate Lee Bullock.
Seconds after Ryan Hutchinson hammered along the Whitby goal-line off Lee Bullock, Jarrett Rivers, star of Spartans’ recent televised FA Cup success at Hartlepool United, smashed against Anthony Bell’s foot, which flew past the near post. At the other end, Dale Hopson chipped Woolston neatly, only to drop the ball onto the top of the net, rather than inside.
If the game wasn’t already up, for the Blues, the result was put beyond doubt, three minutes before half-time. A long ball pinged off Bullock’s shin and Armstrong took full advantage, stepping past the stricken defender, who simply couldn’t keep up with the youngster as he gleefully drilled past Bland for 4-0. Bullock, who had been forced into a second game in as many days, by Luke Bythway’s long-term injury, appearing to feel his knee refuse to give as he tried to pursue his opponent.
Hopson pushed a low free-kick straight at Woolston, late in the half, with Blyth skipper Robbie Dale doing likewise, for Bland to save, early in the second. The hour mark saw Rivers pick out McTiernan with a near-post ball from the right, that was glanced inches wide with a stooping header from the former Whitby man. Two more Blyth free-kicks were blocked by Bland. First, the mercurial Dale saw a 35-yard piledriver kept out full-length, low to his right, by the ex-Boro stopper, who then reacted well to tip over substitute Jordan Laidler’s dipping set piece.
Dale’s replacement, Matty Pattison, then released Maguire, who was thwarted by a fine smother, at his feet, from Bland. Nine minutes from time came a rare moment of pleasure for the travelling Blues fans as Hopson popped up unmarked on the left-edge of the Blyth box and somehow lifted the ball over Woolston and in off the far post from a seemingly-impossible acute angle. Roberts had replaced Hume, by now, and should have reduced the arrears further, with five minutes remaining. The lively marksman rounded Woolston, but was forced wide to the right and had to bicycle kick for goal, with the ball dropping wide of the keeper’s left-hand post. However, that would have been an unrealistic scoreline and the hosts reinforced their dominance, late on, when the outstanding Rivers drilled across the face of goal and this time inside the far post past an unsighted Bland, for 5-1.
Blyth Spartans: Woolston, Hutchinson, Liddle, Reid, Buddle, Watson, Rivers, McTiernan (Laidler 64), Maguire, Armstrong, Dale (c) (Pattison 78). Subs not used: Wrightson, Pell, C Bell.
Whitby Town: Bland, Martin, A Bell (McWilliams 69), May, Bullock, Gell, Snaith (c), Hopson (Fryatt 87), Hume (Roberts 73), Tymon, Weledji. Subs not used: Robinson, Dixon (GK).