ONCE again the magic of the FA Vase brought the best out of Whitley Bay FC as they produced their most impressive performance of the season to overwhelm AFC Liverpool at Hillheads on Saturday.
Flying high in the North West Counties League Division One with only two defeats all season, the Merseysiders travelled north with a vociferous band of fans hopeful of causing an upset by toppling the holders, but they never posed a serious threat to Ian Chandler’s side.
With the game having been postponed three times because of the bad weather, Whitley had the bonus of Chris Fawcett being able to make the starting line-up, having now recovered from knee surgery in November.
However, they were missing Craig McFarlane who was unwell and Kyle Hayes who picked up an injury in the Ryton game.
The opening stages were fairly even, with Liverpool getting the first shot on target, although Shaun Chart’s effort was comfortably taken by Terry Burke, back in goal having recovered from the injury he suffered during the warm-up before the previous Vase game at Thackley.
An opportunist strike from Lee Kerr after 15 minutes startled the visitors as the ball crashed off the bar with keeper Jack Baker beaten.
And four minutes later, Kerr was again close to getting the opening goal when his shot was pushed onto the post and away from goal by Baker, then Chow’s shot was blocked almost on the line.
Fawcett kept up the pressure with a cross from the left that saw Chow test Baker again.
Fawcett, looking close to his fitness level of last season, was a real threat and his pace down the wing caused all sorts of problems for the Liverpool side.
Just before the half hour defender Callum Tai-Hogan was booked for a badly mistimed tackle which saw him trip Fawcett in full flight.
Whitley were well on top and when Liverpool tried to mount attacks they came up against a determined Bay rearguard, with Steve Gibson and Darren Timmons particularly impressive.
As a result, the visitors were restricted to long range efforts, but in one of their rare breaks, Jack Sinnott wasted a good opportunity when he blazed the ball over the bar.
The breakthrough came after 39 minutes when Paul Chow was needlessly tripped as he took the ball across the edge of the penalty area.
Kerr confidently beat Baker from the penalty spot.
A key moment came three minutes later when Chow accidentally caught Baker as the two raced towards each other chasing a loose ball.
Baker took a knock but after treatment he continued although in some discomfort.
Whitley nearly capitalised on the situation when Fawcett broke away again and his cross into the box was poked narrowly past the post by Chow.
One goal to the good at the interval, Whitley looked comfortable, but given their recent form, it was a concern that they had not capitalised on more of their chances.
On the resumption, Baker looked to have recovered and was moving more freely and he was soon needing to be alert when David Pounder’s corner was met by Kerr, whose neat shot clipped the top of the bar.
Whitley continued to play attractive football with Fawcett proving a real handful.
Shortly before the hour, mark Stephen McCluskie became the second Liverpool player to be cautioned when he tripped Fawcett just outside the area.
Gibson was another Whitley player to catch the eye with several surging runs down the wing in what was probably his best performance since joining the club in the summer.
The visitors conceded another free kick shortly afterwards, this time about 25 yards out on left.
Gareth Williams floated the ball to the back post where Chow ghosted in to head home from close range.
The goal opened the floodgates, with two more following in quick succession.
Three minutes Timmons joined the attack for a Pounder free kick and his header from ten yards out nestled into the corner of the net with Baker making a despairing attempt to reach the ball.
Then with the Liverpool defence in disarray, a long ball was headed on by Kerr into the path of Chow and he clinically chipped Baker for the home side’s fourth.
And as if this three-goal burst was not bad enough for the Merseysiders, Baker’s attempt to keep out Chow’s goal saw him aggravate his earlier injury.
Despite further treatment, he was unable to continue.
With no substitute keeper on the bench, defender Darren Torpey pulled on the keeper’s jersey for the last 25 minutes.
With the game now won, Fawcett was brought off, and whether by coincidence or not, Liverpool then enjoyed their best period of the game.
Chart had stood out as their best player in the first half and he restored some pride for the visitors with an excellent goal, as his shot from fully 25 yards out on the gave Burke no chance as the ball flew into the top corner of the net.
Briefly Liverpool pushed forward but with a three-goal deficit they were never going to turn the game around.
The emergency keeper had not yet been tested but he came under pressure when Whitley began to reassert their authority.
Paul Robinson went past two players and fired in a shot that Torpey could not hold but pushed behind for a corner.
The emergency keeper then tried to control a back pass before clearing the ball but dallied on it too long and Kerr took full advantage, dispossessing Torpey then rounding him before slotting the ball into an empty net for the fifth goal.
With just seven minutes remaining, Chart got involved in an altercation on the touchline with Gibson.
The outcome was a booking for the Liverpool man but Gibson was sent off for what the referee saw as violent conduct.
Even with ten men, Whitley continued to look for more goals and the next one came two minutes later when Damon Robson burst out of defence down the right and his inch perfect pass found Robinson who lobbed the ball over the advancing Torpey from outside the penalty area.
With the score now 6-1, memories of Wembley last May came flooding back, but Whitley were not done yet and three minutes from time Chow completed his hat-trick when he broke clear and drilled the ball low into the corner of the net to send the majority of the 738 fans wild with delight.
The final score was perhaps a little harsh on the visitors, but even with a fully fit goalkeeper they would have struggled to keep the score down with Whitley in this mood as their confidence increased visibly as the goals flowed.
Remarkably this was the first game this season when Whitley had scored more than three, but less surprisingly it was their biggest ever score in the FA Vase, going one better than the six they scored against Wroxham at Wembley.
What was especially pleasing to see was every single Whitley player performing and contributing in a way reminiscent of last season.
Clearly, tougher challenges lie ahead, starting at Herne Bay in a fortnight, but if this game was anything to go by, the thirst for more Wembley glory is still there and Whitley appear to have no intention of loosening their grip on the FA Vase just yet.
Whitley Bay: Burke, Gibson, Pounder (Smith 81 mins), Timmons, Fawcett (Rowe 68 mins), Williams, Ormston, Robson, Kerr, Chow, Robinson (Cornforth 86 mins). Subs not used: Mason, Hayes.