A COMMANDING first half display proved just enough for Whitley to take the points in a game where Billingham Synthonia came back strongly and had much the better of the second period.
Ash Davis was unwell and missed what would have been his last match of the season before flying out to Australia, so James Fairley played up front alongside Paul Chow.
Chris Reid was available again following work commitments and was named among the substitutes.
Whitley began the game strongly and inside the second minute, an audacious shot from Lee Kerr almost put Whitley in front.
Spotting Synthonia’s reserve keeper Tim Griffiths off his line, Kerr attempted a spectacular Paul Robinson style lob from around 40 yards out on the right. The ball initially appeared to be heading for the far corner of the net but drifted wide, much to the relief of the young keeper.
The Synners’ rearguard looked hesitant whenever Whitley attacked, and they were caught out after ten minutes when Fairley played a ball over the top and Chow raced on to it, advanced to the edge of the penalty area and fired a low shot past Griffiths to give Whitley a well deserved lead.
It was Chow’s 29th goal of the season, and he might well have added to his tally four minutes later when he broke through again but this time his shot clipped the top of the bar with Griffiths beaten.
Synthonia’s first real chance came in the 21st minute when Jordan Robinson headed straight at Kyle Hayes from a cross by Kieran Edwards.
A minute later, Edwards set up a chance for Danny Newby, whose shot was narrowly off target.
Whitley looked dangerous in every attack and almost increased their lead moments after Newby’s effort when James Novak headed Robinson’s cross into the side netting from close range.
Chow then took the ball to the by-line before cutting it back to Fairley who was quickly closed down by three defenders and his shot was blocked.
The second goal eventually came in the 34th minute when Chow broke clear and his shot crashed off the bar, rebounding into the path of Fairley who drilled it into the net.
Edwards sliced an attempted clearance of Fawcett’s cross three minutes later and the ball almost fell for Robinson just yards from goal but the best move of the half came with five minutes remaining. Pounder’s ball from midfield reached Fawcett whose first time cross was volleyed inches wide by Novak with the Synthonia defence mere spectators. Shortly before the interval, Burton saw a shot blocked by Callum Anderson but that was a rare attack by the visitors.
The half time whistle came with Whitley two goals ahead and in total command, though with a little more accuracy and luck with their finishing, that lead could have been doubled.
There was no indication of the change in fortunes that would occur in the second half, but a significant moment came less than two minutes after the resumption. Robinson and Chow combined to create another opening but Chow mis-hit the shot and the ball just trickled towards the keeper. A third goal at this stage would surely have ended any chances of a Synners comeback, but the miss indicated what would increasingly influence the game, namely the heavy pitch. This was the fourth game at Hillheads in eight days and the bad midweek weather contributed to making the playing surface less than ideal, though hugely better than that at Bedlington seven days earlier.
Fatigue from the heavy schedule of the previous week also seemed to be taking its toll on some of the Bay players the longer the game went on. Synthonia, who were now looking much more composed, were seeing far more of the ball and they began to pressurise the Whitley defence. Captain Chay Liddle volleyed wide from Burton’s cross ten minutes into the half and after another miss by Whitley, the visitors deservedly reduced the deficit when Dan Johnson slotted home from close range after a cross from the left was headed on by Newby.
A triple substitution by Whitley saw Scroggins, Watson and Reid introduced to stem the increasing extent of Synners’ influence on the game. The Teessiders, who in contrast to Whitley’s heavy schedule, had been without a game for 12 days, were now looking much the stronger and it seemed only a matter of time before they would get an equaliser. However, Wilson’s free kick in a threatening position was blocked by the Bay defensive wall and two attempts by Nathan Jameson were kept out by Hayes. Lee Kerr in midfield and Callum Anderson in defence particularly caught the eye for Whitley in the closing stages.
A rare Bay attack 15 minutes from time might have brought the goal that would have settled nerves but Griffiths did well to block a shot from Robinson following Fairley’s cross.
It turned out to be a hard earned victory but it keeps Whitley in fourth place and extends their unbeaten league run to ten games.
WHITLEY BAY: Hayes, Brooking (Scroggins 70 mins), Novak, Anderson, McFarlane, Fawcett (Watson 70 mins), Pounder (Reid 70 mins), Kerr, Fairley, Chow, Robinson.
On Saturday, Whitley travel to Durham City to take on the side now managed by former Bay coach Adam Furness. City have shown much improved form since the arrival of their new manager and are now comfortably placed in mid table. When the sides met at Hillheads in September, the game ended in a 2-2 draw despite Whitley creating enough chances to win the game.