Whitley Bay’s three-match winning run came to an end with a disappointing performance in Carlisle that saw Celtic Nation go top of the table.
With Callum Anderson on holiday and Chris Fawcett suffering from a knee injury, Whitley’s cause was dealt a further blow shortly before kick-off when goalkeeper Tom Kindley injured his ankle during the pre-match warm-up and had to replaced in the starting line-up.
On a calm and sunny afternoon, Celtic made a good start and after five minutes they went close when from a left wing corner former Greenock Morton striker Colin McMenamin headed over the bar.
Three minutes later Whitley might have taken the lead but home keeper Dan Lowson got his fingertips to a well flighted free kick from James Novak and pushed the ball onto the bar.
The big spending Carlisle side had just signed Michael Rae from Spennymoor a few days earlier and it was his pass that led to the opening goal after 12 minutes.
Receiving the ball on the edge of the Bay penalty area, Mark Boyd drilled a shot that took a huge deflection and flew beyond the helpless Jonny Ball, who had been drafted into the Bay side in place of the injured Kindley.
Three minutes later, Rae almost doubled the lead when Whitley failed to clear a bouncing ball and his shot on the turn was only inches wide of the post.
Whitley fought back with a good move involving Chris Reid and Jarrett Rivers which ended with Paul Antony heading wide of the far post.
Brad Brooking then saw a cross deflected behind for a corner and Novak’s ball into the goalmouth was put over his own bar by Paul Johnson.
Having withstood the pressure, the Carlisle side stung Whitley with a second goal after 32 minutes when Rae was allowed space to head home Luscombe’s left wing cross from close range.
Shortly before the interval, Whitley might have pulled a goal back from Novak’s corner when Leon Ryan almost headed home but a defender put the ball inches wide of the post, and from the following flag kick, the home side again struggled to clear the ball.
A goal at this stage would have put Whitley back in the game, but Celtic Nation held out and retained a two-goal lead at the interval.
Lowson saved well from Rivers early in the second period but Whitley’s best chance came just before the hour mark when Novak’s cross from the left put Paul Chow one-on-one with Lowson just six yards from goal. Normally lethal from this range, Chow seemed to hesitate and Lowson managed to block his shot with an outstretched foot and the ball flew wide.
The game looked all over for Whitley when after 62 minutes Craig McFarlane did not get enough power on a back pass to Ball and Gibson intercepted about 30 yards out with a clear run on goal. McFarlane sprinted back to try and recover the situation while Ball came out but the keeper brought Gibson down as he tried to stop the ex-Kilmarnock midfielder. It was an inevitable penalty but McFarlane had done well to get back inside the 18-yard box and so Ball was deemed not to have been the last man and was cautioned rather than being sent off. The drama was not over yet as McMenamin’s spot kick crashed off the base of the post and the ball was cleared to safety.
Lifted by the penalty miss, Whitley still clung to hopes of a comeback but perhaps lacking the midfield influence of Anderson and the pace of Fawcett, they failed to create any real opportunities as the home defence won most of the high balls.
In contrast to the sparkling rail locomotive which attracted the attention of fans as it passed by on the adjacent west coast main line, Whitley appeared to be running out of steam and they knew the game was up when with 15 minutes left, Nation substitute Jake Simpson’s looping shot deceived Ball as it dipped into the net off the underside of the bar.
It was a poor day for Whitley but with only one defeat in their ten games, Celtic Nation, a strong side packed with experienced players, were worthy winners and look likely to remain among the front runners this season.
Whitley Bay: Ball, McFarlane, Novak, Reid, Ryan, Brooking (C Smith 70 mins), Tait, Antony (Blake 81), Davis, Chow, Rivers (Harris 83). Substitute not used: B Smith.