IN Arctic conditions and with a much changed, under strength side, Whitley Bay were well beaten on Saturday by Guisborough, who have lost only once in the eight league games they have played at Hillheads.
Partly out of necessity and partly for tactical reasons, Whitley made six changes to the side that beat Bedlington in midweek.
Lee Kerr was suspended while injuries sidelined Callum Anderson, Brad Brooking and Ian Watson.
With a busy fixture schedule ahead, Chris Reid, Paul Robinson and Craig McFarlane were all rested but named on the bench.
Into the side came the two Smiths, Brian and Craig, while reserves’ youngster Dan Chambers was in the starting line-up for the first start time.
Before kick off, there were special presentations to Paul Chow, who was making his 300th appearance for the club and scored his 200th goal in midweek.
To mark the occasion he was also named captain for the day. Sadly, it was not a game he will look back on with any great pleasure.
Playing into a very strong and bitterly cold wind, Whitley struggled to get the ball out of their own half and with nine minutes played only a great reflex save by Kyle Hayes put the ball out for a corner when a swirling ball was inadvertently sliced towards his own goal by Kyle Downey.
It came as no great surprise when another corner after ten minutes brought the first goal, Dan Johnson stabbing the ball home from close range.
The pressure did not ease and Guisborough made full use of the elements with another in-swinging corner that was headed home from close range by Gary Wood.
Lacking so many of their regular defenders, Whitley were up against it but gradually stemmed the tide of attacks without threatening anything in reply.
Indeed it was more than half an hour before they troubled the visitors’ defence.
Seven minutes before the interval, James Novak’s free kick was headed on by Chow and deflected just beyond the back post by a Guisborough player.
Inexplicably, the officials gave a goal kick, just one of a series of decisions that seemed to go against the home side.
With no further addition to the score, there were hopes at half-time that with the wind at their backs, Whitley might get back into the game after the interval.
Those hopes were heightened by a triple substitution, with the experienced trio of Reid, Robinson and McFarlane all coming off the bench for the start of the second half.
It took McFarlane less than two minutes to test inexperienced Town keeper Shane Bland with a first time effort as Whitley looked much livelier.
They poured forward and pinned the visitors back in their own half, but with little end product as they failed to make best use of the conditions and struggled to put accurate passes together. They were also up against a resolute and well organised Guisborough side who were giving little away.
Just past the hour, Reid set up Chow for a shot that went wide, before Reid was cautioned for a foul on Jamie Poole.
Any hopes of Whitley rescuing anything from the game were ended in the 69th minute when in a breakaway upfield, Johnson was put through on the left and slid the ball past Hayes for the third goal.
Nine minutes from time, Bay were denied what appeared to be a clear penalty when Craig Smith was pushed to the ground almost on the goal line following a corner, but the officials waved away the appeals.
McFarlane then had a shot pushed wide by Bland before receiving a bizarre booking in the final moments, one of five cautions handed out to Bay players on a day when very little went right for them and few performed to their usual level.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Chambers (Reid 46 mins), Novak, Pounder (McFarlane 46 mins), B Smith, C Smith, Fawcett, Scroggins, Fairley, Chow, Downey (Robinson 46 mins).
Whitley Bay have two games over the Easter weekend, starting on Good Friday afternoon (3pm kick-off) with a local derby at home to Newcastle Benfield.
Although they have struggled near the foot of the table this season, Benfield are showing improved form and among their ranks are former Bay players Gary Ormston and Gareth Williams.
It is a game that Whitley must win to keep up their hopes of a top three finish.
On Easter Monday afternoon, Whitley travel to league champions Spennymoor Town, who could be celebrating reaching the FA Vase final following their semi-final second leg, due to be played on Saturday evening.
They lead opponents Guernsey 3-1 from the first leg and are hot favourites to reach Wembley for the first time.
Whitley will be hoping to take advantage of any tiredness in the home side in what will undoubtedly be a tough game, with Spennymoor having lost just one league game all season.
Whitley Bay return to Hillheads on Thursday next week, when Dunston UTS are the visitors, then two days later, on Saturday, April 6, Whitley will welcome league leaders and championship favourites Darlington to Hillheads.
The Quakers always have a large following and a crowd in excess of 1,000 is expected for this game.