The Rams will be glad to see the back of young Shane Bland, the Whitby goalkeeper. For the third game in succession, he repelled the Rams strike force like garlic repels vampires such that despite dominating the match from almost first kick to last, it was not until deep into time added on that the Rams finally broke the home team’s resistance and only then in somewhat controversial circumstances.
Except for a 20-minute period midway through the second half, the Rams were quick, slick and fluid throughout, carving openings down both sides of the Whitby defence at will, orchestrated by Gary Stopforth’s sharp interventions on and around the centre circle and Scott Burton’s sweeping passes to both flanks. And the visitors went in front after only 15 minutes after Stopforth put Grant Spencer clear through with a pass of unerring accuracy they were in easy control.
The problem though with Jordan Hulme playing a sole role upfront, successful as that has been, is that he often finds himself alone in the opposition box and unless the final ball is timed and directed to perfection promising attacks come to naught. So it was on Saturday with any number of clear openings going begging. Despite not extending their lead, the Rams were still well in their comfort zone until the half hour when Grant Shenton became temporarily unsure of his position in trying to deal with a swinging cross from the right to allow David McTiernan to get in front of him and head home.
The encouragement that the home side might have expected from that equaliser never materialised. Direct where the Rams were intricate and challenging the home team were unable to bring any sustained pressure on the Rams defence apart from a long range shot well saved by Shenton and a cross across the face of the goal when Dominic Smalley pulled up with an injury.
At the other end, Bland spread himself well to deny Phil Dean, Osebi Abadaki cut in and saw a shot headed over and Bland then did well to grasp a shot from Stopforth. The Rams attacks though were becoming increasingly frantic and the final pass lacking composure.
The managers clearly sensed a change of approach was needed to avoid a replay. On 70 minutes, the Rams wide men were removed and replaced by Jon Robinson and Lee Gaskell, forming a narrow three pronged attack with Jordan Hulme.
With a silvery moon rising and casting an eerie glow over the ground, this was like the hounds of hell being let loose on the Whitby defence. The Rams swarmed in and round the Whitby box, Bland dived, flew and launched himself at shot and header and Rams’ heads began to droop with despair until in the last of four added minutes, Scott Burton broke up another attempt by the home side to break clear and fired in a last desperate cross. Gaskell headed on and Robinson lurking at the very edge of legality chested down and thrashed a shot past Bland into the roof of the net.
Whitby players and fans alike howled for the linesman’s flag which stayed resolutely down while the hard core mutton army, 40-odd strong, cavorted and danced.
This is what cup ties are made of!
RAMSBOTTOM UNITED team: Grant Shenton, Dominic Smalley, Lee Pugh, Gary Stopforth, Steven Howson, Cedric Krou, Osebi Abadaki, Scott Burton, Jordan Hulme, Grant Spencer, Phil Dean. Subs: Tom Williams, Nelson Mota, Lee Gaskell (for Dean 72mins), Joel Pilkington (for Abadaki 69mins), Jon Robinson (for Smalley 72mins).