WHITLEY faced the current FA Vase holders in a game that had been dubbed ‘the battle of the Vase winners’ but with both sides struggling to find any early season form, it was perhaps not surprising that the game failed to live up to its attractive billing.
What was more predictable however was that the goal scorers were players who had between them scored six times at Wembley. An additional statistic, probably unique, was that the game featured three players who had scored a total of nine goals in Vase finals, Paul Chow, Lee Kerr and Andrew Bulford.
Whitley made two changes from the side beaten at Billingham Synthonia the previous week, Brian Smith and Denver Morris making the starting 11, with Daryll Donnelly and Jack Palmer dropping to the bench.
Whitley started well but Dunston’s first attack saw Hayes push away a shot from Bulford. In the fourth minute, Whitley so nearly took the lead. Morris headed the ball forward to Chow who in turn nodded it across goal where Kerr drove a low shot back across goal and just inches beyond the far post.
Whitley were posing the greater threat and former Bay defender Steve Gibson, who joined Dunston during the summer, was booked when he brought down Chris Reid near the left touch line.
A few minutes later, Reid raced forward again after receiving the ball from Chow and his angled shot rebounded off the outside of the post. Reid then became the third player to be cautioned in the first 15 minutes when he tripped Dale Burrell, the Dunston man having to be helped from the field unable to continue.
After looking the better side for much of the opening 20 minutes, Whitley fell behind to a penalty conceded when there was no serious threat to the Bay goal. Substitute Danny Craggs had his back to goal near the right edge of the Bay 18 yard box but was brought down by Craig McFarlane’s outstretched foot. Andrew Bulford comfortably beat Hayes from the penalty spot, the third penalty Whitley had conceded in their last four games.
Good work by Bulford set up another chance for Dunston but the Bay defence held firm and averted the danger. The home side were growing in confidence and went two ahead in the 34th minute when Bulford raced away down the right and with his assistant flagging for an infringement by Whitley, the referee allowed play to continue and Bulford slotted the ball past the advancing Hayes to put the home side firmly in control.
Paul Robinson almost pulled a goal back with a shot that flew just over the bar after Kerr caught Dunston unawares with a short corner but at the half time whistle, the Vase holders remained two up.
The second half was a rather scrappy affair for lengthy periods, with Whitley battling hard to get back in the game but failing to break down a determined defence and put pressure on Dunston keeper Liam Connell. Robinson and Kerr in particular battled away and never gave up as they tried to get a grip of the midfield but clear cut chances for either side were few and far between. One of the home side’s best efforts was a long range attempt from Terry Galbraith that whistled past the upright.
Twice Dunston were penalised for infringements not far outside their penalty area but after comfortably holding the first of Lee Kerr’s free kicks, Connell dived to his left and got his fingers to the second, pushing the ball clear of goal.
Whitley did eventually earn reward for their efforts when Dunston failed to clear Robinson’s left wing corner and the ball was stabbed home by Chow, but with the goal coming in stoppage time, it was too late to affect the outcome.
WHITLEY BAY: Hayes, McFarlane, Fawcett, Reid, Smith, Scroggins, Morris (Palmer 82 mins), Fairley (Donnelly 84 mins), Kerr, Chow, Robinson. Substitutes not used: Guthrie, Rowe, C Smith.
Footage of the game on Saturday can be seen here