Stourbridge 2 Whitby Town 0
Second half goals from Chris Lait and Justin Richards were enough to earn the win against a resolute Whitby outfit.
The Glassboys always seemed to have the edge on their opponents from North Yorkshire but it took until just after the hour mark for the deadlock to be broken and for the home side to finally earn a reward for their patience.
Whitby, for their part, contributed to an entertaining game, and looked a better side than their League position suggests, always looking to play a composed, passing style of football that all too frequently from their point of view floundered only in the final third.
The win lifted Stourbridge back up to fourth place in the Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division table, thanks to Ashton United’s home defeat against Workington, a result which on the other hand means that a play-off spot is by no means yet guaranteed for the Glassboys.
There was one change from the team that drew at Matlock on Tuesday evening, with ft-again Chris Lait returning in place of Tom Tonks. Whilst Tonks can consider himself unfortunate to miss out, Lait’s presence added width to Stour’s game, and he was constant threat to the Seasiders’ defence.
Whitby began brightly, but Stourbridge gradually worked their way into the match, although it was not until nine minutes had been played that there was any incident of note, when Shane Bland in the visitors’ goal almost made a hash of a clearance under pressure from Karl Hawley, managing to get the ball away from danger at the second time of asking.
Justin Richards’ delicate lay-off to Sean Geddes on 12 minutes saw the midfielder drag his shot wide of goal, before a stumble by Lait almost afforded Whitby’s top scorer Mike Roberts a sight of goal, only for Kristian Green to come across and block at the expense of a corner which Matt Gould held comfortably.
Lait showed his threat with 20 minutes played when a surging run ended only with hi being bundled over 25 yards from goal, with Geddes’s free kick being claimed by Bland as both Hawley and |Richards were a whisker away from getting a telling touch on the ball, and then three minutes later, Hawley fed Bowerman in the right hand channel and he ran on into the area before shooting over from a tight angle.
Lait again was the creator with 27 minutes on the clock as his ball in from the right was back-heeled goalwards by Richards but straight into the arms of Bland, and then Lait again weaved his way into the box only to see his shot blocked by Dave McTiernan. Almost directly from there, Whitby broke and the Glassboys were a little fortunate as Gould’s clearance was charged down by Roberts with the ball falling kindly for Stuart Pierpoint to mop up.
And it was Roberts again who was to come closest to opening the scoring on 34 minutes as his shot on the turn from just outside the corner of the penalty area thudded against the crossbar with Gould powerless.
Stourbridge responded with Geddes firing a left-foot shot well over from 20 yards out, and then Lait again causing trouble as he attacked the heart of the Whitby defence. It seemed that he had pushed the ball a little too far as he went past Richard Pell but somehow the winger managed to get in a cross that Hawley was just unable to reach at the far post.
The second half again saw the visitors make a bright start, with Gould tested twice in the opening minutes. First Roberts saw his shot held by Gould when it appeared he possibly had better options, and then Anthony Hume found Dale Hopson in a good position but his shot again lacked the power or placement to trouble the Glassboys’ keeper. In between times, Roberts was forced off with what appeared a hamstring problem, and with him went much of Whitby’s attacking threat, as Stourbridge began to assume the upper hand.
First Richards saw his shot from 25 yards deflected narrowly wide, and then from Junior Smikle’s cross from the left Hawley was unable to keep his shot on target having brought the ball under control well.
As with the home game against Buxton at Easter, a tactical switch and the introduction of Tom Tonks for Bowerman on the hour paid dividends almost instantly. Within two more minutes Green, now pushed into a more attacking role on the right flank, found Lait with an intelligent low ball into the area and a good first touch gave him the time to thump an unstoppable shot high into the top right corner to give the Glassboys a deserved lead.
Buoyed by the goal, Stourbridge visibly relaxed, although there was a flashpoint on 69 minutes as Geddes and McTiernan clashed, leading to a stern word for both, but no cards, from referee Nick Hobbis.
The second goal that effectively ended the game as a contest arrived with 72 minutes played, as Richards pounced on a short pack-pass in front of Bland, and, with his back to goal, turned and chipped over the retreating keeper and into the far corner. It was a goal worthy of settling any game, and just reward for the hard work put in by Richards throughout the game.
There were few further chances after that, with both sides seeming to settle for the scoreline as it stood. Instead there came a flurry of cards for the visitors, beginning with a straight red for McTiernan, who had already upended Geddes again following their earlier clash, before going in rashly on Green and being given his marching orders, and then three yellows in quick succession for Adam Gell, Jamie Poole and Callum Martin.
In between times, there was one final chance for Stourbridge as substitute Ashley Vincent’s low cross was turned towards goal by Hawley, with Bland able to block.
Stourbridge now go into the final week of the season knowing that a play-off place is within touching distance, and that a draw at Frickley on Thursday and a win at home to Salford City next Saturday will be sufficient to claim third place and a home play-off semi-final.