Blues dropped out of the top five, after a hard-fought stalemate, in the West Midlands, last Saturday.
Town manager Chris Hardy made one change from the side that hammered Halesowen, four days earlier, as skipper Steven Snaith began a two-match suspension, so assistant boss Lee Bullock returned to the defence and Luke Bythway took Snaith’s midfield role.
It was the hosts, who were promoted as First Division South champions, who threatened first, inside four minutes, when Levi Reid forced Shane Bland to save low at his left-hand post. Within two minutes, Dale Hopson crossed from the left-edge of the Stafford box, with Matty Tymon, at the far post, narrowly failing to reach the ball. Hopson then tried a shot of his own, sending a speculative 20-yard effort wide of Adam Whitehouse’s right-hand post. The Seasiders had a great chance to break the deadlock, on 12 minutes, when Davy Carson went clear on goal, only for the towering Matt Bailey to get back and ease the ex-South Shields midfielder off the ball on the edge of the penalty area.
Stafford’s Ben Haseley then latched onto a loose ball from a free-kick, slicing wide when well placed. Hopson remained a danger to the hosts and when Bailey cleared Callum Martin’s right-wing cross with his head, Town’s former Huddersfield playmaker volleyed for the bottom-right corner, from 12 yards, where Whitehouse saved with his left foot. Five minutes later, after a string of corners, the latest saw Bythway head towards the top-right corner only for Sam Griffiths to nod off his own goal-line ahead of Whitehouse’s dive. Seconds later, Mikey Roberts’ low drive was well held at hip-height by Whitehouse.
One of two controversial moments of the first half, which went in Whitby’s favour, came in the 28th minute when Kyle Perry rose highest at the far post to nod home Griffiths’ right-wing corner. Fortunately for the Blues, Perry was penalised for putting hands on marker Bullock’s shoulders and the goal was chalked off. Richard Batchelor then flashed a lively free-kick narrowly wide.
Seven minutes before half-time, Roberts, fresh from two goals in three games, found space on the right byline, forcing Whitehouse to smother a fierce low snapshot, from an acute angle. The second pivotal moment arrived moments before the break. Carson was forced away from goal, on the edge of the box, before being bundled over by Reid’s brother Izak. Referee Richard Abson also adjudged that the contact was inside the area, surprising most in the ground and giving Hopson a chance to send Whitby in ahead at half-time. However, Town’s top scorer was unable to add to his 23 goals, so far, this season, as Whitehouse smothered low to his left from the resulting spot-kick- Hopson’s first penalty miss of the campaign.
The second period, opened with Roberts cutting in from the left flank but choosing to pull back, rather than shoot from a good position and the hosts nipped in to clear. Eight minutes into the second half, Whitehouse cleared long straight through to his opposite number Bland, who punched away, awkwardly, two-handed, to his right, as Izak Reid applied pressure. Rangers continued to press, flighting the ball from James Bowen’s long throws, any cross or clearance, into the Blues box, looking for Perry, but it was his strike partner who came close, 11 minutes from time. Brian Barton had, by now, replaced Haseley, up front, for the home side and the bleach-blonde substitute turned a loose ball, just inside the box, inches over the crossbar.
The Seasiders’ last opportunity arrived with five minutes remaining. Hopson tried a 20-yard effort, approaching the left-edge of the area, bringing another strong parry from Whitehouse.
Stafford Rangers: Whitehouse, Griffiths, Bowen, Morris, Bailey (c), Taylor (Heath 67), I Reid, L Reid (Sherratt 67), Perry, Haseley (Barton 73), Batchelor. Subs not used: Tolley, Lyttle.
Whitby Town: Bland, Martin, McWilliams, May, Bullock, Gell, Bythway, Hopson (c), Roberts, Tymon, Carson (Hume 86). Subs not used: Robinson, Fryatt, Caulfield, Dixon (GK).
Man of the Match: Lee Bullock- Solid and well organised amid the endless aerial battles.