WHITLEY Bay enjoyed a taste of European football on Sunday evening when they hosted a highly prestigious friendly at Hillheads against top class Ukrainian opposition.
Newcastle United’s Europa League opponents Metalist Kharkiv arrived in England at the weekend and were looking for a friendly to prepare for their game at St James’ Park.
The Ukrainians agreed to play Whitley Bay in what was initially to have been a ‘behind closed doors’ game, with no spectators allowed, but through their German agent, they accepted Whitley’s request for the turnstiles to open for fans.
Three days of planning and numerous meetings for club officials took place and there was even a late change of kick-off time requested by the visitors, with the game being brought forward two hours from the originally arranged 7pm.
A wet and windy evening may have deterred some fans but there was still a crowd of 722, including a number from the local Ukrainian community, decked in their national flag.
To avoid giving too much information to Newcastle in the build-up to the Europa League game, Metalist requested restrictions on media access.
Despite having played a league game just over 24 hours earlier, it was a full strength Whitley Bay side that took to the pitch against a team of internationals from Argentina, Brazil, Serbia and Senegal as well as various Ukrainian stars.
Whitley played the first half with the strong wind and intermittent rain at their backs.
And they showed no signs of nerves as the Ukrainians appeared to find it difficult to acclimatise after a warm weather training camp in Spain.
Taking full advantage of the conditions, Bay forced the Ukrainians onto the defensive and with 11 minutes played, David Pounder’s in-swinging right wing corner caused problems as it curled into Kharkiv’s goalmouth. As defenders failed to get the ball away, LeePaul Scroggins pounced to fire the ball into the net from close range and write his name in the record books as the scorer of the first goal against European opposition at Hillheads.
The home side were in front for eight minutes, then the skills of Brazilian midfielder Marlos took him into the area where he drove home the equaliser.
Whitley might have regained the lead when twice going close midway through the half.
Chris Fawcett received the ball in midfield and outpaced the defence before firing a low shot from the edge of the area that required a fine save from keeper Oleksandr Horyainov.
Nine minutes later, James Novak’s right wing corner was blown almost across the line by the strong wind, with Horyainov diving full length across his goal to punch the ball clear.
The second half saw a completely different visiting line-up, with their squad being given match practice.
Facing the elements, Whitley struggled to create as many chances as in the first half and the Ukrainians enjoyed much more of the possession.
But Bay defended superbly, denying their opponents time or space, and keeper Kyle Hayes made several excellent saves.
When Whitley did push forward, Ash Davis, on for the second half, tried his best to pressurise the visitors back line but in the end, both sides were probably happy with the outcome,
Few could argue Whitley Bay did themselves and the Northern League proud, both on and off the pitch.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Brooking, Novak, Anderson, Scroggins, McFarlane, Fawcett, Pounder, Kerr, Chow, Robinson. Substitutes: Davis, Watson, Fairley, B Smith, C Smith.