THE remarkable run of success in the FA Vase continued for Whitley Bay on Saturday when Paul Chow’s goal deep into stoppage time earned them a narrow victory in what had been dubbed ‘The battle of the Bays’.
The Kent League leaders proved tough opponents on their Winch’s Field ground and the crowd of more than 650 – easily Herne Bay’s biggest of the season – were treated to a pulsating cup tie in which fortunes fluctuated as both sides committed themselves to attacking football.
Ian Chandler selected an experienced starting line-up, including eight players who were in the Vase winning side at Wembley last May.
Whitley were playing down the slope in the first half and it soon became apparent that following recent wet weather, parts of the lower end of the pitch were soft, making it difficult to keep a foothold.
Whitley’s first effort on goal came after eight minutes when Lee Kerr rifled a shot over the bar from 20 yards.
Herne Bay were quick to break with neat and accurate passing and they went close just a minute later when Stuart King fired an effort through the defence and inches wide of the post with Terry Burke appearing not to see the ball until the last moment.
Ten minutes on, the home side created another chance but Marsden’s shot took a deflection and it looped high over the bar.
From the resulting corner, Marsden again threatened with a well placed shot but Burke leapt high to his left to pluck the ball out of the air as it flew towards the top corner.
Whitley began to gain the upper hand with play switching to the other end.
When Damon Robson crossed from the left, a strong shot from David Pounder was held at the second attempt by home keeper Dan Eason.
Then when a home defender slipped near the corner flag, Chow dispossessed him and played the ball across field to Paul Robinson, whose low angled shot across goal brought a good diving save from Eason.
The Herne Bay keeper made another good block to deny Robinson, but when the ball rebounded into the path of Chow, he skied it over the bar.
Chris Fawcett then brought a fine save from Eason before the Kent side retaliated with Jenner’s low shot bringing an excellent diving save from Burke, who held onto the ball at the second attempt.
A thoroughly entertaining and evenly balanced first half ended with Robinson again trying his luck, but this time his low shot curled wide.
From the restart, Whitley went on the offensive, and within a minute Craig McFarlane shot only inches too high after Chow had headed the ball into his path.
The opening goal came two minutes later when Darren Timmons’ cross was headed down by Fawcett and Robinson seized his chance, driving a low shot across Eason into the far corner of the net.
However ,Herne Bay retaliated and four minutes later they were back on level terms.
A free kick was struck long down field from inside his own half by Toby Ashmore. Whitley’s defence failed to cut out the high ball and Harvey reacted with a close range shot that rebounded off the chest of Burke. Tom Bryant was first to react and poked the ball home from close range.
Whitley went close when Chow won the ball and Kerr’s slightly under hit shot was palmed away by Eason.
A period of Whitley pressure failed to reap reward, but a volley from Kerr whistled over the bar and a header from Chow was kept out by the keeper.
Two substitutions by Herne Bay seemed to lift the home side and they began to exert more pressure, forcing Whitley back with Kerr playing a more midfield role.
Whitley were holding firm at the back, with Callum Anderson in fine form alongside Timmons and Gareth Williams.
However, they were effectively inviting Herne Bay to attack by merely pumping the ball upfield rather than finding their own men, and at this stage the home side looked the more likely to get the next and possibly decisive goal.
With nine minutes left, substitute Ben Brown fired a shot on target, but yet again Burke made a fine save, pushing the ball away from goal.
Harvey was also denied by the Bay keeper, who was showed all his experience and had an excellent game.
With the minutes ticking away, it began to look as if extra time would be needed.
Herne Bay pushed everyone forward for a last minute corner, and but when the ball was cleared and played upfield they were short of numbers and Robinson raced clear on goal.
Only a great save from Eason kept the ball out and it seemed the final chance had gone.
However, Whitley Bay quickly forced two corners on the left.
The second, played into the six-yard box by Williams, was headed out to the right by substitute Brian Smith. Robson collected the ball and played it down the wing to Robinson, who danced round his man before crossing it back across goal where Chow, unmarked for once, controlled the ball before firing it beyond Eason into the bottom corner of the net.
With only seconds of stoppage time remaining, there was no way back for the home side, whose players sank to their knees in despair at the final whistle, while the Whitley players celebrated a hard earned victory with the fans whose 350-mile journey to the Kent coast had been made well worth the effort.
The win means that since their defeat at Lowestoft in the 2007-08 semi-final first leg, Whitley have now gone a remarkable 21 games unbeaten in the FA Vase, equalling the record set back in the 1980s by Halesowen Town.
Whitley Bay: Burke, McFarlane, Pounder (Ormston 56 mins), Anderson, Timmons (Smith 88 mins), Williams, Fawcett, Robson, Kerr, Chow, Robinson. Subs not used: Rowe, Gibson, Hayes.