Whitley Bay are through to the Northern League Cup Final but Whitehaven did not make it easy for Leon Ryan’s men.
On a warm and sunny Easter Monday, the Second Division side did all they could to create an upset but Whitley emerged victorious to claim their place in the final for the first time since 1971, when they defeated neighbours North Shields at Croft Park, Blyth.
This year, to celebrate the League’s 125th anniversary, the final is, for the first time, being played at St James’ Park Newcastle, where on Tuesday, May 6, Whitley’s opponents will be Marske United, who defeated Ashington 4-1 in the other semi-final.
Having made the long 100-mile trip to the Cumbrian coast on Monday, Whitley and their fans were kept waiting when, in somewhat farcical circumstances, the referee delayed kick-off as the pitch had not been marked and the lines could not been clearly seen.
Playing in their third choice all-red strip, Whitley made a slow start while the hosts, clearly the underdogs, were fired up for what they had described as the biggest game in their history.
Whitehaven took a shock but deserved lead after 12 minutes when poor Bay defending allowed Kevin Holliday to play David Dustin through on goal and he slotted the ball past Cook, just inside the near post.
Urged on by a large contingent of travelling fans, Whitley fought back and, in the 16th minute, drew level when Alex Kempster capitalised on a slip by defender Jack Hunter and chipped the ball over advancing keeper Ian Studholme from the left edge of the Whitehaven penalty area.
Five minutes before half time, Whitley had strong claims for a penalty turned down when a defender appeared to handle the ball after a left-wing corner.
Whitehaven made a lively start to the second half and a header flew just wide from a free-kick but Whitley finally went ahead on the hour with a typical Paul Chow goal.
Whitley’s leading scorer got his 41st goal of the season when he poked home a right-wing cross from Alex Kempster from little more than two yards out.
Whitley were now gaining the upper hand and the third goal came just three minutes later thanks to a tremendous strike. Jarrett Rivers created the chance near the right corner flag then finished it in style with a 25-yard shot that curled beyond the keeper into the corner of the net.
It seemed as if the game was won but Whitehaven refused to lie down and within moments of coming off the bench, substitute Lee Woolf was allowed to run through a static Bay defence and drill the ball past a helpless Cook to revive the home side and set up a tense finale.
Deep into stoppage time, Craig Hubbard almost sealed the win for Whitley but seconds later the final whistle was blown and they could finally celebrate victory.
As Leon Ryan readily admitted after the game, it had been far from a classic Bay performance but at this stage of a cup competition it was the result that mattered most.
Whitley Bay: Cook, McFarlane, McDonald, Anderson, Ryan, Reid, Bott, Hubbard, Rivers (McMullen, 83mins), Chow, Kempster (Smith, 90mins). Substitutes not used: Gladstone, Brooking, Berry.