Whitby threw away a strong half-time position to suffer just their third home league defeat of the season, after Callum Ball struck a brace for visitors Barwell, on Saturday.
An improved Turnbull Ground crowd saw Whitby look to continue their run of back-to-back wins with just one forced change made by Chris Hardy. Dave McTiernan’s shock midweek move to Blyth Spartans saw Dale Hopson rushed back in to take his midfield berth. Hopson showed few signs of his flu bug in the early stages, contributing to two bright Whitby moves early on. First, Davy Carson found space on the right-edge of the Barwell box but failed to trouble Liam Castle, who comfortably saved a tame low effort. A similar followed, on 13 minutes, when skipper Steven Snaith burst forward, but also produced a shot that lacked power, from similar range as Castle smothered low to his left.
The in-form Leicestershire visitors showed what they can do, on the half hour, as good work down the right saw the overlapping Owen Story feed Luke Barlone, who forced Shane Bland to fend away at his near post. Minutes later, young captain Brady Hickey hooked just over the top from 22 yards.
Barlone sliced high and wide when well-placed before the impressive left wing-back Dan McWilliams ended a great flowing move with a right-foot effort across the face of goal and inches wide. At the other end, Barlone slammed straight at Bland and the young gloveman also held Alex Tomkinson’s rising shot from distance.
However, it was the Blues who struck first, a minute before half-time. Versatile centre-half Luke Bythway stayed forward after releasing Adam Gell, who flew through a strong tackle and found Carson, who saw his through-ball fall perfectly for Bythway to turn superbly into the roof of the net, from the left-edge of the penalty area. Desperate Barwell players surrounded referee Craig Dean, but to no avail, as he waved away pleas for Gell to be penalised for a foul in the build-up. Moments later and Town could and should’ve doubled their advantage after breaking at speed, with three against three, as Snaith muscled his way into the box but couldn’t square from the right to the unmarked Hopson, as Castle clutched the skipper’s scuffed cross at the near post.
Undeterred, the Seasiders began the second half with purpose, Snaith intercepting in front of an expectant main stand and releasing Gell, who forced a left-wing corner that Hopson swerved across goal and just wide of Castle’s left-hand post. Within three minutes, the Canaries levelled with a left-wing corner of their own which Ball back-heeled neatly past Bland from six yards. From the centre, Hopson came forward and released McWilliams, who forced a near-post Castle parry, from an acute angle. As the game noticeably opened up, Barlone smashed against the crossbar out of nothing, from 18 yards, and from the rebound, brought a good low save from Bland. Seconds later, Snaith sliced well off target from a decent position. The Blues number ten did much better, just after the hour, when he turned across goal and only a deflection off Eddie Nisevic’s heel diverted the ball agonisingly wide of Castle’s left-hand post.
The East Midlanders won another set piece, on 68 minutes, with a close-range shot bundled off the Whitby goal-line by Callum Martin. The pressure continued and 16 minutes from time, Ball was allowed to swivel on the right-edge of the box and placed perfectly between Bland and his left-hand post. The stock frontman was then denied his hat-trick when Bland narrowed the angled well to saved with his legs one-on-one, just inside the box.
By now, Hardy had gone for broke and sacrificed central defender Mark Robinson for big frontman Anthony Hume, who went up front as a third striker. The temptation to go direct resulted in a string of aimless long balls, mainly down the middle of the pitch which Barwell’s powerful backline hoovered up with ease. The closest they came to losing their lead was a needlessly late Towers challenge on Bland long after the ex-Middlesbrough goalie had claimed a loose ball. Towers could possibly count himself fortunate to only pick up a yellow card for the gratuitous collision.
Whitby Town: Bland, Martin, McWilliams, May, Bythway, Robinson (Hume 77), Gell, Hopson, Tymon, Snaith (c), Carson. Subs not used: Bullock, Dixon (GK), Fryatt, Weledji.
Barwell: Castle, Story, Nisevic, Stanley, Towers, Julien, Tomkinson, Hildreth, Barlone (Baldwin 84), Hickey (c), Ball. Subs not used: Smith-Varnham (GK), Woolley, Hadland.
Co-operative Whitby WTFC Man of the Match: Dale Hopson