WHITLEY Bay FC overcame the challenge of Coalville Town to retain the FA Vase and write their name in the history books on a record-breaking day at Wembley.
In years to come, fans will look back on Sunday May 8, 2011, as the day Ian Chandler’s Whitley Bay side became the most successful team in the history of the FA Vase, completing a hat-trick of wins at the home of English football.
Unlike their previous two Wembley finals against Glossop and Wroxham, this was a game when Whitley were made to battle all the way by an excellent Coalville side who gave Whitley their toughest test yet in what is a now a 26-game unbeaten run in the competition.
For long periods of a pulsating contest, the Midland Alliance champions held the upper hand and Bay keeper Terry Burke was kept busy.
With the experience of the big occasion, Whitley might have been expected to settle the quicker of the sides, but Coalville showed no nerves and were immediately on the attack with Paul Robinson making a vital clearance from one of a series of corners before Burke pushed a cross from defender Cameron Stuart over.
Whitley were under almost constant pressure with the Leicestershire side mounting attack after attack.
After 16 minutes, a Bay free kick gave them some relief but Darren Timmons was beaten to the ball by keeper Sean Bowles.
Midway through the half Whitley came more into the game but efforts by Gary Ormston and Lee Kerr were both off target, then Craig McFarlane cut in from the right but fired over.
However, McFarlane was more successful soon after as he received the ball from Kerr, raced away down the right past Stuart and crossed low into the six-yard box where Paul Chow touched the ball home from five yards.
The goal came against the run of play but was the first record of the day as Chow kept his record of scoring in every round Whitley had played this year.
Coalville threatened quickly only for Callum Anderson to make a vital block.
Coalville fans thought their side had drawn level when Jerome Murdock tapped home only to be flagged offside.
Luck appeared to be on Bay’s side as Matt Moore struck the inside of the post and the ball rebounded back to Burke.
The Ravens scored a deserved equaliser on 58 minutes when Stuart’s cross from the left cleared Timmons and Gareth Williams and Moore’s header proved too powerful for Burke, who despite getting a hand to the ball could not keep it out.
Whitley showed the quality of champions as they regained the lead three minutes later.
Robinson showed superb skill on the right, turning Stuart inside out before crossing to Kerr who sent a perfectly weighted glancing header across the keeper and into the far corner of the net.
Like Chow, Kerr had now scored in three Wembley appearances, another record.
The game swung from end to end and minutes later another Coalville shot hit the post.
Whitley made a double substitution with Brian Smith and David Coulson replacing David Pounder and Williams.
Murdock’s powerful shot from 20 yards brought an outstanding save from Burke.
The threat from Coalville did not diminish and Burke made another great save to deny Murdock again.
But with ten minutes remaining the Bay keeper was beaten when Anthony Carney’s cross from the right was headed home by Adam Goodby.
Many sides would have wilted under the pressure of conceding at this stage, but not Whitley.
Late winners have been the order of the day – especially in this season’s FA Vase as Herne Bay and Poole will testify.
With just four minutes remaining and extra time beckoning, McFarlane mounted another surging run down the left, and as he cut in he was tripped by Ashley Brown just a few yards outside the penalty area.
Kerr’s free kick was played into the middle of the goal where Chow deflected the ball onto the underside of the bar and then bundled the rebound into the net to scenes of delight from the Bay fans who were bathed in sunshine at the same end of the ground.
There was still time for a few tense moments as Burke was again forced into a fine save to keep Whitley ahead.
McFarlane, who had an outstanding game, then pulled a hamstring and was helped from the field in obvious pain.
Steve Gibson came on for the closing stages.
Whitley showed all their experience as they played out the remainder of the game without further incident.
The final whistle sparked scenes of jubilation on and off the field before Damon Robson led his troops up the steps to claim the FA Vase for a record-breaking fourth time and the third in succession.
Whitley Bay: Burke, McFarlane (Gibson 89 mins), Pounder (Smith 68 mins), Anderson, Timmons, Williams (Coulson 68 mins), Ormston, Robson, Kerr, Chow, Robinson. Subs not used: Hayes, Rowe.