Mikey Roberts’ two goals in as many minutes helped the Seasiders overturn a half-time deficit to overpower Pickering and win the North Riding Senior Cup, at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, on Monday night.
Nearly 1,500 supporters, with an estimated 1,000 backing the Blues, saw Chris Hardy’s men roar back from a goal down at half-time, assisted by Roberts’ introduction at the interval.
Despite nearly four weeks without football, Hardy made just one change from the side that beat Hednesford Town 1-0 on the final day of the NPL Premier Division season. Fit-again Luke Bythway the only addition, at the expense of player-coach Mark Robinson, at the back.
The Blues went for an attacking 4-3-3 formation, in front of a largely-partisan crowd, but it was the Pikes who started the stronger, with Eddie Birch turning over, on the half volley, inside five minutes, after a corner was cleared.
At the other end, thwarted by a very slick surface, Whitby eventually started to create, with Anthony Hume shovelling into goalkeeper Toby Wells’ hands, on 12 minutes. Soon after, a determined build up saw Dale Hopson’s edge-of-the-box, on the turn, effort, beaten away by Wells.
Bythway, up from the back, found himself charged down desperately, following Hopson’s neat dink into the six-yard box, with Pickering’s Nick Thompson driving straight at Shane Bland, from similar range.
The midfielder went one better, however, on 32 minutes, with an outrageous finish that lit up a drab first half. Just after the half hour, Thompson tried an audacious 25-yard lob that curled over Bland and into the top-right corner to give the Northern Counties East side a shock lead.
Approaching half-time, Blues skipper Steven Snaith saw his 18 yarder just about pushed over, two-handed, by Wells, while Bythway ballooned over from the resulting corner.
Three minutes before the break, Hume sent a low shot across the face of goal after a bustling run down the left and the big frontman should have done better, moments later, when nodding wide a free far-post header from Callum Martin’s pinpoint right-wing cross.
That was the ex-Blyth marksman’s last touch as Hardy introduced Roberts, in his place, for the second half.
The Seasiders, who play their football two divisions above Paul Marshall’s Pickering, looked more effective after the restart and levelled within eight minutes. Snaith’s lung-busting run was abruptly ended on the edge of the D and Hopson, who swept the board at the club’s end of season awards and had already brought a sharp stop from Wells two minutes into the second half, stepped up to steer past an ineffective defensive wall for his 32nd goal of the season.
Pickering then showed why they secured a record points tally in finishing second in the league, this season, as Birch brought a full-length parry, low to his right, from Bland. The Mill Lane men’s biggest threat came through ex-Blues duo Ryan Blott up front and lively substitute winger Ged Dalton. A third Whitby connection saw an animated Denny Ingram on the touchline, as Marshall’s player-assistant, while a fourth, Tom Claisse, missed out completely with a knee injury.
Cheered by a vocal following, Roberts rose to the occasion with his two-goal salvo, either side of the 70th minute. The ex-Spennymoor man had suffered a barren campaign, after topping the Seasiders’ scoring charts in 2015/16, but made some amends when a left-wing cross was diverted up in the air and Roberts was left free to beat Wells in the air and nod into the top-left corner.
Suitably motivated, he was soon sprinting to the Whitby crowd again as the determined frontman touched Hopson’s driven, near-post free-kick low past Wells for 3-1.
Hardy then ensured as many of his squad could experience the Riverside turf, as possible. Anthony Bell replaced Kieran Weledji as a powerful third forward option and Kyle Fryatt replaced Hopson, who earned a standing ovation from much of the Whitby support.
The last act saw the full squad, including injured playmaker Davy Carson, receiving their medals, alongside the Pickering players, before skipper Snaith lifted the North Riding Senior Cup, post pitch-invasion- the seventh time a Whitby Town captain has done so.
Whitby Town: Bland, Martin, McWilliams, May, Bythway, Snaith, Gell, Hopson (Fryatt 89), Hume (Roberts 45), Tymon, Weledji (Bell 77). Subs not used: Robinson, Dixon (GK).
Pickering Town: Wells, Parker, Bissett (Cooper 75), Chipps, Denton, Tilsley, Thompson (Robinson 69), Birch, Blott, Taylor, Kamara (Dalton 58). Subs not used: Dunnett, Ingram.