Whitley Bay cruised to a very comfortable victory at Marske United on Saturday, a venue where they had only won once in their five previous visits.
The victory was Bay’s sixth in less than two weeks and it left them needing just one point from their last two games to be assured of finishing third in the table.
Marske went into the game with their Ebac Northern league first division status safe despite a poor run of form, and like Whitley, with a county cup final to look forward to in the coming week.
On a bright and sunny afternoon, David Pounder and Ian Watson were in the starting 11 while Paul Robinson and Brian Smith were rested and both Paul Chow and Chris Fawcett were on the bench.
Whitley were soon threatening the home goal, with Brad Brooking playing a more attacking role than normal, supporting Lee Kerr up front.
Marske keeper Scott Allison was soon in action, pushing a shot from Kerr round the post in the sixth minute.
Two minutes later, Whitley were awarded what looked to be a soft penalty for a push on Brooking by Marske’s Adam Wheatley.
The incident, right on the edge of the penalty area, seemed innocuous but referee Ian Quinn immediately pointed to the spot.
Kerr, captaining the side in place of Robinson, comfortably beat Allison to give Whitley an early lead.
David Onions threatened to level the score after 16 minutes when he broke through on goal but Kyle Hayes forced him wide before getting back to block his shot.
Whitley doubled their lead after 24 minutes when James Novak’s cross from the right was only parried by Allison and James Fairley came in at the back post to slot the ball into the net.
As well as Brooking, Callum Anderson was venturing further upfield than normal, hoping perhaps for that elusive first ever goal.
There were loud shouts for a penalty from the home side and their fans when Chris McGill appeared to be brought down inside the area, but the officials ignored the appeals and play was allowed to continue.
It was a relatively rare anxious moment for Whitley as they continued to look the better side by some distance and they were good value for their two-goal interval lead.
Five minutes into the second half the game was as good as won when Whitley got their third goal.
It came from a free kick out on the right which was floated to the edge of the penalty area by Novak. Kerr cleverly brought the ball down, turned and fired it beyond Allison for his second goal of the game, an excellent finish that matched his performance in what was his last game of the season due to suspension.
The goal was the signal for a double Bay substitution, with Chow and Craig McFarlane replacing Brooking and Anderson.
The pattern of the game continued as before with Whitley dominating proceedings and Fairley almost got his second with a header from another teasing delivery by Novak. At the other end, Stewart fired wide when played in by David Onions, and then when a slip by Craig Smith let Onions in on goal, Hayes was alert to the threat and made an excellent save.
Chow twice had chances to add to Whitley’s lead in the closing stages but his finishing let him down, then Hayes made another good save to deny Marske substitute Alexander.
With rivals West Auckland only managing a draw at South Shields, this win strengthened Whitley’s grip on third place and was the perfect tonic ahead of Wednesday’s Northumberland Senior Cup final against Ashington.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Brooking (Chow 50 mins), Novak, Anderson (McFarlane 50 mins), C Smith, Reid, Pounder, Kerr, Fairley, Scroggins, Watson (Burns 69 mins).