Whitby went top of the Evo-Stik League for the first time since the opening day of last season thanks to Dale Hopson’s penalty midway through the second half.
It was an open encounter against the division’s second-bottom side, at a ground where the Seasiders had never won. The gulf was invisible, however, for much of this open match where Skelmersdale had a golden chance to take the lead inside three minutes. Ex-Accrington striker Max Hazeldine should have found the net but took an overly heavy touch, six yards out and failed to test Shane Bland. Seconds later, a similar opportunity saw Bland dive in to smother at the marksman’s feet.
Bright play from the visitors in white then saw Matty Tymon slide past Martin Fearon’s right-hand, near post. The number ten so nearly broke the deadlock on 11 minutes, after great work from Dale Hopson. The skilful playmaker pulled back from the right byline and Tymon fired against the underside of the crossbar, the ball bounced on the goal-line and was cleared. Hopson then poked powerfully into the chest of Fearon, at the near post, from a similar position to his earlier cross.
It was far from ideal preparation for the Seasiders with tailbacks on the M62 keeping the players on the bus for nearly an hour longer than planned and a trio of players travelling separately- Dave McTiernan, Adam Gell and Bland arrived just 15 minutes before kick off due to the delays. Roberts looked far from leggy however, turning well before dragging wide from the edge of the box, then, seconds later, turning just over, after a lung-busting run down the right from Kieran Weledji.
Luke Bythway picked up a yellow card for deliberate handball after punching Dale Hopson’s free kick into the net, at the near post, on 33 minutes. Then at the other end, Skem had a bright spell just before half time. Hazeldine’s low drive, across the face of goal, forced Bland to touch wide then Ken Strickland worked himself into a great position before scuffing straight at Bland, from 20 yards.
A downpour during the interval did nothing to dampen the attacking football on show from both sides. Five minutes into the restart, Hazeldine’s cross from the right was turned back the way it came, almost past his own keeper, by Weledji. Strickland sliced well off target soon after.
Whitby hit the woodwork for a second time, nine minutes into the second half. This time it was Roberts who connected well from an acute angle, on the right, beating Fearon, only for the ball to clip the far post and Tymon, yards away, only able to deflect the ball away from goal. Seconds later, a near-identical effort saw Dan McWilliams’ left-wing cross laid off by McTiernan for Roberts to slam just wide.
Hazeldine curled onto the roof of the net from a 25-yard free-kick, before the chance of the night for the hosts. A knock down from a left-wing cross fell invitingly in the six yard box only for Bland to block brilliantly and Luke Wall to back heel strongly but wide. Gell, back from suspension, replaced McTiernan in midway, midway through the half and the away side were handed an opportunity, 16 minutes from time. Snaith went down, after contact in his back, just inside the penalty area and Hopson was the picture of coolness as he slid home his 10th goal of the season, from the resulting spot kick, finding the bottom right corner as Fearon fell the wrong way.
Tom Ince, often the architect of Whitby’s downfall in previous meetings, was introduced on 77 minutes, but Town held firm for a vital victory to take over at the top.
Skelmersdale United: Fearon, Mooney, Holden, O’Riely, Bodie (c), Akrigg (Hodkinson 81), Lowe (Ince 77), Woolcott, Hazeldine, Strickland, Wall. Subs not used: Fernandes, Jago, Prisetley (GK).
Whitby Town: Bland, Weledji, McWilliams, May, Bythway, Robinson, Hopson, McTiernan (Gell 68), Roberts, Tymon (Hume 87), Snaith (c). Subs not used: Anderson, Bullock, Dixon (GK).