A Whitley Bay side inspired by the return of club legend Ian Chandler gave a spirited performance before bowing out of the Northumberland Senior Cup to FA Vase Quarter Finalists Morpeth Town on Tuesday evening.
Chandler had only a threadbare squad at his disposal, with injuries and suspension ruling out several key players.
On top of that, competition rules stated that only players registered before the original scheduled date of the game, back in November, would be eligible for the tie, ruling out several recent signings.
Morpeth were buoyant following their FA Vase victories over North Shields and Berkhamsted, and they started strongly, breaking forward with pace, but solid Bay defending kept chances down to a minimum. Whitley suffered a setback in the 15th minute when Adam Shanks limped off the field after a strong challenge. Fortunately, after treatment from returning physio Glen Martin, he was able to continue.
Morpeth took the lead in the 20th minute, when Michael Chilton knocked home a rebound after his initial shot hit the post, but Whitley were undeterred and kept battling away, with Kempster particularly impressive in a more central midfield role than in the past.
Three minutes before the interval, Kris Hughes brought a fine point-blank save from Morpeth keeper Karl Dryden following good approach work from McDonald and Shanks.
Within 90 seconds of the restart, Dale Pearson broke clear for Morpeth, but Andy Jennison came out to make a crucial save and keep Whitley in the tie.
Twice in as many minutes, Kempster brought saves from Dryden as Whitley pushed forward in search of an equaliser.
With 71 minutes on the clock, Shanks, looking revitalised after a lean spell, was tripped as he broke into the 18-yard box. It looked a clear-cut penalty, but to the amazement of the crowd and Bay players, referee Paul Brown booked Shanks for what he deemed to be diving and awarded Morpeth a free-kick.
Four minutes later, Chilton squandered an opportunity to seal victory for the visitors.
Some 10 minutes from time, Josh Day was injured and had to be helped from the field. With only Dan Gladstone available on the bench, the young substitute goalkeeper took on the unfamiliar role of striker for the final stages of the game as Whitley continued to push forward, but the final ball was lacking and they could notsummon up the equaliser that would have sent the game to extra time.
In the end, the strength and experience of the Northumbrian side saw them through to the semi-finals, but Whitley could hold their heads high after a battling display.
Chandler was encouraged by the performance of his team, saying: “It was a tough game. We only had 11 men and Dan, who had to come on as an outfield player at the end of the game, but in general, it was very encouraging.
“The team played well together and they stifled Morpeth to probably the goal and a couple of half-chances.
“We didn’t put the ball in the box enough, but we had some good passages of play.”
Whitley Bay: Jennison, Day (Gladstone 80mins), McDonald, Gibson, Laws, Anderson, Norris, Kempster, Shanks, Youldon, Hughes.
Cautions: Gibson, Shanks.
Bay striker Michael Bell, is set to leave for Australia in the next few weeks, but hesigned off with an impressive performance at Newcastle Benfield on Saturday.
He said he had thoroughly enjoyed his time at Hillheads but was looking forward to the opportunity of playing football in the warmer climate of Brisbane.