Whitley Bay 2 Newcastle Benfield 1
On a fine, sunny afternoon, the Bank Holiday crowd was considerably boosted by football followers from across the country who were taking part in the Northern League’s Easter Groundhop weekend.
With one eye on the League Cup semi-final just three days later, Whitley made six changes to the side that started the midweek game against Celtic Nation and with Paul Chow unavailable, centre back Craig Smith took the captain’s armband while striker Andy Robertson, who has been in impressive form for the Reserves, came in for only his third start of the season.
An early chance came Whitley’s way when Craig McFarlane played a ball low across the Benfield goalmouth with Alex Kempster only just failing to get the vital touch.
The next action of note came in the tenth minute when Michael McMullen played the ball through to Tony Stephenson, who cleverly rounded keeper Andrew Grainger but having been forced wide he saw his shot crash off the angle of crossbar and upright and away from goal.
McFarlane was proving a real threat down the right flank and with 24 minutes on the clock another teasing cross over the Benfield defence was met by Chris Reid whose header was saved low down by Grainger.
Benfield had not really threatened in the opening stages but on the half-hour Paul Brayson curled a 20 yard shot towards the top corner of the Bay net but Mark Cook pushed the ball round the post for a corner that proved unproductive.
After Thomas Bott had fired wide of goal for Whitley, Benfield’s Richard Slaughter tried his luck from distance without troubling Cook.
A minute later though, the Bay keeper needed to be alert to push away a free kick from Mark Convery that took a deflection and threatened to creep in at the near post.
The visitors were enjoying their best spell of the game now and three minutes before the interval James Luccock tried his luck from 25 yards but was narrowly off target.
Early in the second period Whitley made their first change, with assistant manager Steve Foster replacing Chris Reid in defence. Shortly afterwards, a good move by the visitors saw Brayson cut the ball back into the path of Phil Cave whose shot flew across the face of goal and beyond the far post.
Whitley eventually broke the deadlock after 65 minutes when McDonald’s ball into the penalty area was brought down by Stephenson and Andy Robertson rifled in a shot from 12 yards that crashed off the underside of the bar and crossed the line before bouncing back into play, the goal being signalled by the assistant on the near side who was well positioned to make the decision.
A special mention should go to Andy Robertson whose goal was well deserved. He gave a good account of himself and is another player who looks capable of making the step up from the reserve team.
Whitley were now looking the better side and playing with greater confidence and they sealed victory with ten minutes left thanks to a well worked goal.
Thomas Bott gained possession just inside his own half and surged forward before playing the ball across to Robertson who in turn released Stephenson. The former Benfield striker then played the ball out to Craig McFarlane just inside the right corner of the 18-yard box and he took a few steps before crashing a powerful angled shot beyond Grainger and into the far corner of the net.
The closing stages saw a flurry of substitutions with Whitley bringing on fitness coach David Berry in place of Stephenson.
To their credit, Benfield, who were playing their third game in five days, kept going to the end and three minutes from time they pulled a goal back when Brayson’s close range shot took a deflection off Craig Smith leaving Cook helpless.
The visitors almost rescued a point deep into stoppage time, but Baptist’s close range shot brought an excellent save from Cook who blocked the shot with his feet, then a minute later with almost the last action of the game, former Bay defender Steve Tobin headed over the bar following a free kick.
The victory lifted Whitley up to tenth place, setting them up nicely for their League Cup semi-final on Easter Monday.
WHITLEY BAY: Cook, Brooking, McDonald, Bott, Smith, Reid(Foster 51mins), McMullen(Anderson 59mins), McFarlane, Robertson, Stephenson(Berry 82mins),
Substitutes not used: Gladstone, Rivers
Referee: Stuart Campbell