LEAGUE leaders Sunderland RCA battled back from two goals down to condemn Whitley Bay to their first home defeat of the season on Saturday.
With half an hour remaining, Whitley looked to be in control of the game after LeePaul Scroggins got his second goal of the game.
But some poor defending gave the high flying visitors the opportunity to stage a dramatic comeback and claim all three points.
Callum Anderson was a late withdrawal from the Bay side due to illness while Craig McFarlane and Paul Robinson were both still missing through injury.
Wearing pink shirts in support of the Breast Cancer campaign ‘Paint the Town Pink’, Whitley were immediately on the defensive as the visitors attacked with speed and confidence.
They looked by far the livelier side in the opening 20 minutes and Kyle Hayes needed to be on his toes to push a dangerous shot from Mark Davison round the post.
Owens then headed over as Sunderland continued to impress.
Whitley slowly got into the game and midway through the half they forced three corners in quick succession.
Just past the half hour Lee Kerr produced a great shot from 20 yards that hit the bar.
Scroggins was quick to react when the ball rebounded in his direction and he fired the ball past the keeper from the right edge of the six-yard box.
The goal came somewhat against the run of play but it lifted Whitley with Phill Bell and Gareth Williams both setting up attacking opportunities in the following minutes.
Two minutes before the interval, Sunderland again went close and it took a clearance almost off the line by David Coulson to keep Whitley in front at the break.
Bay began the second half in much more promising fashion.
Firstly Damon Robson from wide on the right sent over a cross that was just too far in front of both Bell and Paul Chow.
Bell then set up Robson whose shot was pushed wide by Hoggeth.
Bell’s strong running was creating problems for the visitors and six minutes into the second period, his shot from 18 yards out flew just over the bar.
Bell’s persistence paid off three minutes later when he took the ball wide on the right before cutting it back across the goalmouth where Scroggins had the simple task of tapping it into the net.
Two goals to the good and beginning to use the width of the pitch with some effect, Whitley then appeared to revert to a long ball policy which played into the hands of the Sunderland defence.
Strikers were getting little service and it was not long before Chow was replaced by Robbie Dale.
With misplaced passes the opportunity was there for the league leaders to get back in the game, and after 67 minutes they did just that when a ball from the right, which should have been cut out, was allowed to reach Owens who easily beat Hayes from close range.
Almost every decision seemed to be going against Whitley at this stage and three players, Coulson, Scroggins and Darren Timmons, were cautioned as Whitley’s frustrations grew.
With 14 minutes remaining, a lack of communication in the Bay defence at a Sunderland corner resulted in Chris Reid handling the ball and conceding a penalty.
Owens beat the dive of Hayes to bring the visitors level and leave the game wide open.
Within two minutes they were in front and it was Bryan Stewart who burst through to fire home what proved to be the winner.
Whitley gave the bumper crowd of 565 fans few moments of hope in the remaining 12 minutes as Sunderland comfortably held on to earn a deserved win that maintained their lead at the top of the table.
This third consecutive defeat sees Whitley slip down to seventh but with games in hand on all the teams above them.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Williams (Pounder 75 mins), Reid, Timmons (Ormston 75 mins), Smith, Coulson, Scroggins, Robson, Kerr, Chow (Dale 58 mins), Bell.