Whitley Bay surrendered a two-goal interval lead as Ashington fought back to win the local derby in dramatic style with Marc Walton grabbing all four of the Colliers’ goals.
The home side were in total control in a one-sided first half and but for the heroics of Ashington’s on-loan keeper Conor Grant, the game could have been all over after the first 45 minutes.
But three stunning strikes from Walton alongside a penalty turned the game around in the second half.
The injury jinx that struck at the start of the season returned ahead of the game with Peter Watling (ribs), Alex Kempster (foot) and Craig Smith (back) all ruled out, as were Craig Hubbard and Callum Anderson, both of whom were called in to work at short notice, leaving Leon Ryan with a significantly depleted squad.
Before kick-off there was a one minute silence in memory of former Whitley Bay season ticket holder Lee Devlin, who died recently in tragic circumstances.
When the game got under way, Ashington created an early chance when Dean Critchlow forced Dan Gladstone to save with his legs, but from that point on it was almost all Whitley as they bombarded the Colliers’ goal.
Paul Robinson fired a 20-yard shot wide of the target then Ryan’s header from Stephen Buzzeo’s cross was only just wide of the upright.
With the pressure mounting, a good move down the right flank saw Craig McFarlane test Grant with a shot that the keeper saved well.
With 16 minutes played, Grant distinguished himself with a double save, first pushing away a shot from Paul Chow but then doing even better to deny Robinson from the rebound when the midfielder seemed certain the score.
Robbie Bird twice went close, firstly firing just wide of goal after cutting in from the right, then two minutes later his goalbound effort was deflected behind for a corner.
Michael Laws was next to see a shot take a deflection and then Ryan played in Robinson whose stinging effort was put behind for another corner.
The siege continued with Chow going almost clear on goal after a slip by Phil Lumsden but Richard Flynn recovered well to put the ball behind.
A goal was coming and it duly arrived in the 22nd minute from Robinson’s right wing corner. Ryan rising above the Ashington defence to head home just inside the near post.
Two minutes later, Ashington broke quickly down field and Walton’s neat flick across goal flew just beyond the far post.
That was a rare attack for the visitors as Whitley, not missing their absentees, continued to dominate proceedings with some neat and accurate passing on the wet surface, keeping the Colliers pinned back in their own half for long periods.
A brief threat came from former Bay striker Tony Stephenson, recently signed by Ashington, when he headed wide from a left wing corner.
But just when it looked as if Whitley would only have one goal to show for their superiority, they doubled their lead in first half stoppage time.
Following a right wing corner from Robinson, Ashington were penalised for a handling offence, a decision hotly disputed, and Chow comfortably beat Grant from the penalty spot.
What could certainly not be disputed was that Whitley thoroughly deserved their two-goal lead and the opening minutes of the second period saw the game follow a similar pattern, as firstly Jonny Godsmark threatened with a good run through the heart of the Ashington defence only for his final ball into the goalmouth to go astray, then Robinson, closing in on goal again looking odds on to increase Whitley’s lead, was denied by an excellent diving save from Grant.
Four minutes later, the visitors forced their way back into the game when they were awarded a penalty when Walton tumbled to the ground with Brad Brooking adjudged to have brought him down.
Walton converted the spot kick and from that point the complexion of the game changed completely.
With substitute Andrew Ferrell imposing himself in midfield, the Colliers looked a completely different side and for the first time in the game began to exert pressure on the Bay defence.
Critchlow fired a shot high and wide just before the hour mark but Whitley were still a threat, Chow forcing a save from Grant after good work by Chris McDonald down the left wing.
A free kick at the other end saw Gladstone save comfortably from Walton, but with 20 minutes remaining there was little the young Bay keeper could do when a slip by McDonald was pounced on by Walton, who from way out on the right struck a quite spectacular shot that dipped over the keeper and just under the bar to put the scores level.
The Ashington striker then completed his hat-trick barely three minutes later when, with no apparent danger to the Whitley goal, he was given just enough space to turn and curl a tremendous 20-yard shot past Gladstone and just inside the post.
The game had been turned on its head but it was far from over.
With 11 minutes left, Bird broke away down the right wing but was brought down by Ben Christensen, who was promptly cautioned for the offence. When Robinson played the free kick into the 18-yard box, strong appeals for a handball were waved away by referee Lindsey Robinson when the case for a penalty seemed stronger than either of the two that had previously been given.
Whitley’s sense of injustice might have been even greater when Ashington swiftly went on the counter attack and it took a goal line clearance by McFarlane to keep the ball out.
Ryan headed wide from substitute Redford as play swung first one way then the other, but five minutes from time Whitley were in despair when Walton got his fourth.
Receiving from Critchlow before brushing aside two Bay defenders – who were left sprawling on the ground – and to the delight of the travelling Ashington fans, firing past Gladstone from a narrow angle.
Christensen looked in danger of seeing red after another bad foul, but amid protests from both sides, the referee merely awarded a free kick.
Still Whitley refused to give up and with three minutes left, Michael Laws met a Robinson free kick with a well directed header but Grant somehow got his fingertips to the ball and pushed it round the post.
Chow then almost forced his way through on goal but was denied at the last moment by a defender’s outstretched foot.
Just as the game was entering stoppage time, goalkeeping hero Grant made his first mistake of the night, dropping the ball after McFarlane had sent in a high cross from the right and Chow seized on the error poking the ball home from three yards to set up a frantic finale.
As they pressed desperately for an equaliser, Whitley had another penalty claim when Chow appeared to be pushed over but none of the crucial decisions were going their way and their appeals were turned down.
It was Ashington’s night, in particular Grant and Walton, whose performances were the difference between the sides, but Whitley will be wondering how they let slip a comfortable two-goal lead after such a commanding first half display.
Whitley Bay: Gladstone, McFarlane, McDonald, Buzzeo, Ryan, Brooking, Bird, Laws, Godsmark (Redford 75), Chow, Robinson. Subs not used: Johnson, Hammond, Day, Harris.