Troubled Whitburn fall just short in fight to stay up

Whitburn 1 Hill of Beath Hawthorn 1

WHITBURN lost their battle for Super League survival when they could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to fellow strugglers Hill of Beath.

Whitburn needed a win against The Haws if they were to have any chance of avoiding the drop whilst a draw would mean The Haws survived for another season.

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"So disappointing for everyone her at the club," was departing manager Derek Strickland's response to Whitburn's relegation. "We took the lead and had a great chance to finish the game off only a couple of minutes later but we missed it and the opportunity was missed."

The sight of the dejected Whitburn players trudging off the field at the full time whistle brought home to many the fears for the club's survival. They have had a horrible season with many financial problems to deal with on and off the pitch. Boss Strickland didn't have his problems to seek, "We've lost eight big players for us because of our financial position. They left for new clubs and no one can blame them, but big players like Kenny Hannah, John Murphy and Andy Doig were matchwinners for us. This game just about sums up our season. So close yet so far away."

The game kicked off in front of a big crowd in the sunshine. Whitburn had to push hard from the start but weren't threatening a Hill of Beath defence who knew they only had to hold out for the draw. The only real chance of the first half was almost a shock for the home side.

The Haws Kevin Byle, up for a corner, had the ball played through to him in the penalty box. All he had to do was blast the ball past the keeper and into the net. Incredibly for Whitburn he elected to square it to Steven Bathgate only for the ball to be played behind the striker where it was cleared. The teams came out for the second half with Whitburn knowing they only had 45 minutes to try and save their season. They eventually made the breakthrough within ten minutes of the restart. David Murphy, who was struggling with a groin strain, sent over a deep cross to the back post. Kevin Donnelly rose at the back post and knocked the ball down to Scott Gormley who bundled it over the line.

There was jubilation in the in the ranks of the Whitburn support who knew their side were on the cusp of staying up if they could hold on to that lead or even score another. They had a great opportunity to do that only a couple of minutes later. After a scramble in The Haws penalty box, Colin Strickland created space for a right-foot volley only ten yards out. However keeper Stuart Hall made a terrific block to keep the ball out. The Haws though still felt they had a chance to earn a draw and they started to take the game to Whitburn. There was some crazy defending before finally in the 68th minute the inevitable happened. Whitburn gave away a soft corner down the left. Haws sub Michael Stuart took the kick which the Whitburn defence failed to clear properly. The ball landed at the feet of Haws full back Byle and he launched a high volley into the top corner for a super goal.

When referee Scott Jamieson blew for full time the Haws players rejoiced and so they should have. They had done what they came to do and did it well. It's been a long hard season for both teams with The Haws playing 16 games in a month.

After the game Derek Strickland said of his own situation: "I'd probably made my mind up about three months ago to leave at the end of the season. I didn't say then because I believed we would be safe by the season end. However I don't think my telling the players I was leaving made any difference to what happened.

"We had huge decisions to make during the winter and some players decided to leave. Unfortunately they were big players for us and as you could see we struggled to find a bench. But we've been like that for weeks now with a very small squad to choose from. I'll take the team next week at Lochee then I'll wish them all the best for the future."

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Whitburn: Walker, McGurk, Martindale, Mooney, Leiper, Donnelly, Murphy (Hastie), McNelis, Gormley (Bradshaw), Strickland, Dolan.

Hill of Beath: Hall, Byle, Morrison (Stuart), McCulloch, Dair, Westwater, Wright, Haddow, Roberts, Bathgate, Gray. Subs: Beveridge, Gemmell, Paterson, Adamson, Wotherspoon.