WHITLEY Bay returned to winning ways with a comfortable 3-1 victory on Saturday over bottom of the table Newton Aycliffe to end October in fourth place, just a point adrift of third place Bedlington.
Chris Reid suffered a recurrence of an injury picked up in midweek during the pre-match warm-up and had to be replaced in the starting line-up by Brian Smith, while Callum Anderson returned in place of Craig Smith.
Newton Aycliffe, who themselves were affected by midweek injuries, suffered two blows early in the game when both John Close and Danny Earl were injured and had to be replaced inside the first 18 minutes.
Wintry overnight weather had left the pitch heavy but there was an excellent crowd of well over 400 at Hillheads on what was a fine and sunny afternoon.
Whitley started positively and went ahead after 12 minutes when Lee Kerr cut the ball back across goal from near the left by-line and Ash Davis met it perfectly, firing a shot high into the roof of the net from eight yards.
Shortly afterwards, Earl went down injured and despite lengthy treatment was unable to continue and had to be helped from the pitch.
The visitors still looked lively and were certainly not like a bottom of the table side.
They worked hard and passed the ball neatly in midfield but found it difficult to penetrate the Bay defence.
On the half hour, Brad Brooking made a surging run down the right and his ball to Davis gave the Bay goalscorer another chance, but this time his shot flew just over the bar.
Two minutes later, Novak’s cross from the left picked out Davis who initially scuffed his shot, but when the ball fell for him again his attempt hit the bar.
In their best effort of the half, Aycliffe went close after 37 minutes when a header from a right wing corner was cleared off the line by Brooking.
Chris Fawcett and Brooking then combined for the latter to test Scott Pocklington with a powerful drive that the keeper pushed over the bar.
Paul Chow was just wide of goal with an attempt from a cross by Fawcett as Whitley looked to press home their advantage.
They were eventually rewarded deep into first half stoppage time when LeePaul Scroggins was tripped just outside the penalty area and James Novak fired the free kick past the wall and beyond the dive of Pocklington.
This was Novak’s first goal for Whitley and it gave them a crucial two-goal cushion at the break.
Seven minutes into the second half, Brooking, who had made several attacking runs from defence, was denied by the keeper as he cut in from the right with a strong shot.
Whitley effectively sealed victory just before the hour when a penetrating through ball from Paul Robinson was nodded on by Chow, who then rounded Pocklington before drilling the ball into an empty net.
Three goals ahead, Whitley were in control and took the opportunity to make two substitutions, Davis and Chow being replaced by Denver Morris and James Fairley.
Kerr moved forward from his midfield role and looked to have added a fourth goal when following another through ball from Robinson, he ran on to a cross from Morris and slotted the ball home, but despite the referee initially waving play on, the goal was ruled out for a marginal offside decision.
Aycliffe reduced the arrears on 70 minutes when a ball from out on the right was played into the goalmouth by substitute David Winskill and Fred Woodhouse appeared to flick the ball over Kyle Hayes from close range.
The goal gave the visitors renewed belief but they were unable to threaten a second as Brian Smith and his fellow defenders snuffed out what few attacks were mounted.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Brooking, Novak, Anderson, Smith, Scroggins, Fawcett, Davis (Morris 64 mins), Kerr, Chow (Fairley 64 mins), Robinson (McMullen 89 mins). Subs not used: C Smith, Robertson.
This was not, as Robinson was quick to point out after the game, a great performance, but it was important to get the win ahead of this week’s big game away to Darlington.
“We’ve been on a great run, we had a bit of a blip at Hebburn; we’ve won again today but we’ll all need to play better next week,” he said.