FOLLOWING their FA Cup victory the previous weekend, Whitley Bay got their Ebac Northern League season off to a winning start with a narrow but well deserved victory at Billingham Town on Saturday.
With their fans basking in the unfamiliar warm and sunny weather, the Seahorses were rather slow to get going.
But after the home side had taken the lead, two goals in just over ten minutes put Bay on track, and but for the woodwork, the final margin of victory would have been greater.
It was a young and inexperienced defence that took to the pitch for the visitors, with Jack Walker and Daryll Donnelly both making their league debuts while Jack Palmer, recently signed from Team Northumbria, was also making his first start in Bay colours.
Chris Reid was the experienced member of the back four and along with Palmer was particularly impressive while Walker and Donnelly also played their part in restricting the home side to half chances.
In the first 15 minutes, the game was largely confined to midfield with Whitley’s only attacks of note coming when Lee Kerr set up Paul Robinson for a 20-yard shot that whistled over the bar and then when Kerr’s goal bound effort was cleared off the line and over his own bar by Town defender James Middleton.
Gradually, Whitley began to take control of the game, and after 19 minutes a good effort from Palmer proved too powerful for keeper Dan Molyneaux who could not hold onto the ball but it was eventually scrambled away from danger.
Four minutes later Denver Morris, who had just switched wings with Chris Moore, broke clear down the right and his cross was met with a diving header from Paul Chow, but the ball flew just the wrong side of the post.
Morris then played a ball square to LeePaul Scroggins in a central position about 15 yards from goal and his shot was only just too high.
Despite beginning to dominate play, Whitley fell behind on 26 minutes when Billingham attacked down the right and Jamie Owens’ cross was not cut out, leaving Michael Dunwell with space to fire past Kyle Hayes from about ten yards out.
Stung by the setback, Whitley fought back well and were level within two minutes.
Moore, now operating down the left flank, cut in and drilled a low shot angled beyond Molyneaux. Middleton made a despairing attempt to block the ball but succeeded only in helping the goal bound shot across the line.
Whitley’s pace down both wings was exposing the home defence and Morris used his speed to take a ball from Scroggins clear of defenders and wide of the keeper, but from a narrow angle his shot hit the side-netting.
Palmer, who was readily going forward to support the attack, then fired in a great shot that Molyneaux pushed over the bar.
Moments later, Chow sent a header just past the post from Reid’s cross.
Whitley’s superiority brought its reward six minutes before the interval when Chow timed his run perfectly as Robinson’s precision pass split the home defence and Chow slid the ball past the oncoming keeper to put Whitley ahead.
Billingham, with the breeze at their backs in the second half, started positively and Hayes had to be on his toes to push a good shot from Cronesberry round the post.
The home side were enjoying more of the possession but with Reid marshalling the Bay defence confidently, chances were few and far between.
The heat was beginning to take its toll and the pace slowed to some extent but Morris and Moore combined to test Molyneaux with a low shot before Reid’s header from Robinson’s corner was directed straight at the grateful keeper.
Whitley finished the game strongly and with six minutes left they might have made the game safe when after good approach work from Walker, Moore’s shot hit the post only for the ball to rebound into the keeper’s arms.
Substitute James Fairley then fired a 20-yard effort just wide of goal while at the other end an opportunist strike from Butterworth dipped just over the bar.
Then in stoppage time, another Whitley Bay substitute, Lewis Burns, set up Robinson for a shot that crashed off the bar with the keeper beaten.
Given that as many as five first team players were missing, this was certainly an encouraging performance by Whitley against a Billingham side that despite lacking a cutting edge, played some neat football and looked a better team than the one that faced Whitley at the end of last season.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Palmer, Walker, Reid, Donnelly, Morris (Anzevui 83 mins), Moore (Fairley 85 mins), Scroggins, Kerr, Chow (Burns 89 mins), Robinson.