THE dream of winning the FA Vase for a record breaking third successive time at Wembley is another step closer to becoming a reality for Whitley Bay FC.
They reached the semi-final of this year’s competition thanks to a hard fought 2-1 victory over STL Northern League rivals Dunston UTS on Saturday.
After a below par first half performance when Dunston bossed the game and were leading at the interval, two goals from Paul Chow, the second with just nine minutes left, saw Whitley through to the last four of the competition for the fourth season in a row.
The game was preceded by a minute’s applause as a tribute to Dunston sports therapist Matty Annan who died suddenly the previous Saturday.
Faced with several difficult selection choices, Ian Chandler opted to keep rising star Kyle Hayes in goal in preference to the experienced Terry Burke, while there was no place for David Pounder in midfield.
However, both Burke and Pounder were members of a strong substitute’s bench.
With a near record crowd in the UTS Stadium, Dunston were quickly on the attack and within four minutes, Steve Preen headed wide after a cross from Harkin was not cut out by the Bay defence.
Whitley’s first attack came when Gareth Williams crossed but keeper Liam Connell comfortably saved Paul Chow’s header.
With ten minutes on the clock, Dunston’s top scorer Andrew Bulford fired the ball over the bar as the home side looked the more dangerous.
Lee McAndrew was using his pace well down the left wing and dealing with this threat was giving Craig McFarlane fewer opportunities to play his more attacking game down the wing.
When Whitley broke forward, Ormston’s header towards goal was cleared just ahead of Chow by Dunston captain Ben Cattanach’s timely intervention.
Moments later, the home side suffered a blow when Preen fell to the ground awkwardly and was unable to continue. He was taken to hospital and it later emerged that he had suffered a multiple fracture of his arm.
Whitley were creating half chances, and Paul Chow, in front of goal, was frustrated when he could not control a header from Darren Timmons following a free kick by Williams.
Robinson then sent a powerful 20 yard effort over the bar but Whitley were lacking their usual sparkle and neat passing. Fawcett was seeing little of the ball and both he and Lee Kerr were being denied time on the ball by the strong and determined Dunston side.
The breakthrough came after 34 minutes, when Harkin’s ball over the Bay defence was seized by Andrew Bulford. He raced clear and beat Hayes with a fierce shot from the edge of the penalty area.
There were suspicions of offside, with some fans near the halfway line claiming that Harkin was several yards beyond the defence when the ball was played but there were no great complaints by Whitley, which was typical of a game played in a great spirit by both sides despite the importance of the occasion.
Dunston pushed forward in the remaining minutes of the half and had they got a second goal, Whitley might have struggled to get back in the game, but thanks to timely tackles by Timmons and Anderson in particular, there was only the one goal in it at the interval.
Whitley’s half-time team talk brought more purpose into their play and on the restart they quickly created two opportunities.
Firstly, Kerr found space inside the penalty area but slight hesitation proved costly as his shot was blocked. Then when Craig McFarlane got a cross in from the wing, Chow could not get enough power on the ball and headed straight at Connell.
Fawcett’s frustrating afternoon ended ten minutes after the interval when he was replaced by Pounder, who played a part in the build up to the equaliser barely a minute later.
His neat pass in midfield was collected by McFarlane whose cross from the right was headed down by Ormston into the path of Chow.
With the surface cutting up, the ball bobbled but Chow waited briefly before placing his shot beyond Connell to the relief and delight of Bay fans who made up the majority of the near 1,500 crowd.
Right from the restart, Dunston went on the attack, Bulford’s ball being headed over the bar by McAndrew.
A minute later, Connell’s miskick almost cost his side a goal but the keeper redeemed himself snatching the ball from the feet of Chow just as he was about to shoot.
Steven Goddard, who had replaced Preen, latched onto a through ball but his goal bound effort was pushed wide by Hayes.
Bulford’s cross from the right looked to be dipping just under the bar but again Hayes was equal to it, finger tipping the ball over the bar.
Dunston were piling forward but excellent defending by Timmons blocked Bulford’s shot when the Dunston man broke through on goal.
Michael Dixon powered a header narrowly wide of the upright from a left wing cross and then when Dunston played a corner short, Harkin brought another fine save from Hayes.
It was not all Dunston though, and Whitley always looked capable of getting a second goal, and it was Chow whose lethal finishing proved decisive with nine minutes of normal time remaining.
Robson played an excellent ball through to Lee Kerr who in turn lifted the ball into the path of Chow on the right side of goal.
He broke clear on goal, took the ball wide of Connell and just as it appeared that the keeper had forced him too wide to get in a shot, he angled the ball across goal and into the far corner of the net.
Not surprisingly, Dunston heads went down but the game was not quite won, and there was still time for a few anxious moments for Whitley fans firstly when McAndrew cut in from the right but his shot cleared the bar and then when another effort flew across the face of the Bay goal and away to safety.
Whitley’s experience in situations such as this paid off in the final minutes, as they retained possession and used up time by playing the ball down the line and towards the corner flag.
Dunston’s remaining attacks saw desperate shots fail to hit the target.
Brian Smith’s late appearance as substitute for Lee Kerr lasted barely 15 seconds before the referee blew the final whistle and the Whitley celebrations began.
This was far from a classic Bay performance and Dunston can take great credit for pushing Whitley to the limit.
Perhaps a draw might have been a fair result but extra time and a replay was not what either side would have wanted given the backlog of fixtures that Dunston especially are facing.
In the eyes of many, Paul Chow was the difference between the sides, but Whitley can also thank excellent defending for keeping them in the tie. Kyle Hayes and Darren Timmons were two who particularly caught the eye.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, McFarlane, Anderson, Timmons, Ormston, Williams, Fawcett (Pounder 55 mins), Robson, Kerr (Smith 90 mins), Chow, Robinson (Gibson 88 mins). Substitutes not used: Burke, Rowe.