WHITLEY Bay won through to the Northumberland Senior Cup final after resisting a late fight back by Bedlington Terriers on a wet and windy night at Hillheads.
In many respects, the star the evening was Paul Chow, who scored his sixth hat-trick of the season and became only the second Bay player to score 200 goals for the club.
However, goalkeeper Kyle Hayes also caught the eye with several outstanding saves, especially during the first half when he denied a lively Terriers side, enabling Bay to build up a commanding three-goal lead by the interval.
Both sides were close to full strength with Whitley welcoming back Callum Anderson and Brad Brooking following injuries.
But unfortunately Brooking did not last long and had to be replaced by James Fairley.
Bad weather which had threatened the game held off until after kick-off, but the rain and sleet quickly set in, with Whitley facing the elements in the first half.
Both sides looked lively from the start but it was Whitley who were posing the greater threat.
With eight minutes played, Craig McFarlane made good progress down the right before playing the ball low across the face of goal only for keeper Kevin Morton made a comfortable save.
Home fans hoping to see Paul Chow get his 200th goal for the club did not have to wait long, the historic moment arriving in the 17th minute.
A good ball from LeePaul Scroggins played Chow through on goal and as Morton came out he slid the ball past the keeper to put Whitley ahead and spark scenes of jubilation from the fans and his team-mates.
Bedlington quickly responded and nearly drew level two minutes later but were denied when Hayes made a close range save before James Novak cleared the follow up effort off the line.
The action came thick and fast with chances at both ends, and after 24 minutes Lee Kerr curled an excellent effort towards goal but Morton saved the shot with his feet.
Back at the other end, a free kick by Terriers was only just off target.
Scroggins was booked for an infringement and was quickly followed into the book by Bedlington’s Colin Morton for a foul on Kerr.
Two minutes before half-time, Fawcett played the ball through to Kerr whose rasping drive was pushed out by Morton but it fell for Fairley. His shot crashed off a defender and into the path of Chow who drilled the ball into the net from close range.
This was his 40th goal of the season, equalling his previous best total in 2009.
In the final minute of the half, Whitley stunned the visitors with a superbly executed third goal.
McFarlane raced away down the right wing and went past a defender, just managing to keep the ball in play.
He then whipped in a great cross and Paul Robinson, racing in ahead of Kerr split the Terriers defence as he met the ball perfectly and sent a flying header past the keeper.
He has scored more than 70 goals for the club, many spectacular efforts, but few headers.
In fact the only one that most fans remember was the header against Barwell that sent Whitley to Wembley three years ago.
Two goals in as many minutes looked to have put Whitley in complete control of the tie when the half-time whistle went.
And it looked to be all over four minutes after the restart when Chow cut inside a defender just outside the penalty area and rifled a great shot into the corner of the net with Morton stranded on his line.
It completed his sixth hat-trick of the season and Bedlington looked deflated and a well beaten side.
Remarkably, Chow could have added his fourth of the night just five minutes later but somehow managed to put the ball wide after Fairley’s cross from the right had given him what looked like a simple tap in.
Moments later, Robinson fired just wide as Whitley kept up the pressure.
When Bedlington were awarded a penalty for an unnecessary challenge just inside the Bay area, Paul Brayson pulled a goal back from the spot, and although it seemed little more than a consolation effort, it sparked Terriers into life.
They began to play with more urgency, Phil Bannister and Mark Doninger in particular posing a threat.
Whitley nearly added a fifth following a flowing move started by Kerr, whose pass to Robinson was played on to McFarlane, who tested Morton with a powerful shot.
Brayson then fired off target for Terriers and a minute later brought a fine save from Hayes, who pushed a goal bound effort wide.
Despite the Bedlington pressure, there appeared to be little danger to the home side.
But that changed 12 minutes from time when Bannister tapped home a second Terriers goal at the back post.
Sensing the threat, Kerr responded immediately, firing a shot just over the bar.
Five minutes from time, Chow might have made it 5-2 from Fairley’s cross but his header flew wide of goal.
Bay substitute Kyle Downey twice went close in the closing stages but then, deep into added time and with the last action of the game, Bannister headed home a third for Terriers.
It gave the final score a slightly flattering look for the visitors, but to their credit they had fought back strongly following the penalty.
Senior cup games between the sides always seem to provide plenty of entertainment and goals, the last three meetings in this competition having produced no fewer than 21 goals, with the winning margin being just one goal in each game.
The most important outcome of this game is that Whitley have reached another cup final, a point emphasised after the game by Chow, who went on to describe it as “a fantastic feeling” when he scored his 200th goal for the club, “especially with it coming in a cup semi-final”.
He has now scored 41 goals this season – he said his next milestone would be to get 50, and maybe beat the club record 51 in a season, set by Billy Wright back in the 1960s.
As for his current form, he gave a lot of the credit to his team-mates in all areas of the pitch for supplying him with the opportunities to score so many goals.
“Every time I play, I feel I’m going to score at least one goal ... long may it continue,” he said.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Brooking (Fairley 14 mins), Novak, McFarlane, Reid, Anderson (C Smith 90 mins), Fawcett, Scroggins, Kerr, Chow, Robinson (Downey 84 mins) .
Bay can now look forward to the final at Newcastle’s St James’ Park, but they will have to wait a little longer to find out who their opponents will be, since the other semi-final between North Shields and Ashington had to be called off on Wednesday due to a waterlogged pitch.