Whitley Bay maintained their excellent recent form and Leon Ryan further enhanced his chances of becoming permanent manager when a battling display earned them a 3-1 victory over Newton Aycliffe in windy conditions at Hillheads.
With one eye on Monday’s Northumberland Senior Cup semi-final against Newcastle United Reserves, Ryan rested several members of his squad for the game against mid-table rivals Newton Aycliffe.
Among those making the starting line-up was Lewis Burns, who has been in fine form for the Reserves. Also included was Tomi Ameobi, making his final appearance of the season before travelling to play in North America.
With the strong and gusty wind at their backs, Whitley quickly forced a succession of corners which the visitors struggled to clear.
A cross from Burns was played on by Tony Stephenson but as Paul Chow closed in on the ball, keeper Andrew Spence pushed it behind for yet another corner.
Ball control was proving difficult for both sides but it was Whitley who were coping the better and enjoying more of the possession.
An injury to Danny Mellanby held up play for several minutes but after treatment the Aycliffe player/coach was able to continue.
The deadlock was broken after 23 minutes when Burns crossed from the right wing to Stephenson, whose low shot from 15 yards beat Spence as it found the far corner of the net to put Whitley in front.
Within 60 seconds, and with what was virtually their first real attack of the game, Aycliffe were gifted the chance to draw level when Chris Reid’s clumsy challenge brought down Tom Atkinson as he broke into the penalty area.
However, Bay keeper Mark Cook made an excellent diving save to thwart Stuart Owen from the penalty spot. The resultant corner was cleared over the bar by the Bay defence and this time, Broom’s corner swept into the goalmouth and was knocked home from close range by Mellanby.
The momentum had changed with the visitors suddenly posing the greater threat and three minutes later Cook had to be alert to punch clear as the ball flew across his goalmouth.
Just as Whitley had earlier forced a series of corners, it was now the turn of Aycliffe to extend the corner count further, but Whitley held out and after the flurry of goalmouth action, play became more even.
Five minutes before the interval, a speculative 20-yard effort from Chris McDonald was not far off target but in the last minute of the half, Chris Reid fired Whitley back in front after a half clearance fell into his path just outside the penalty area and his first time effort left Spence helpless.
Thomas Bott replaced Burns after the break, to make his home debut after signing from Billingham Synthonia earlier in the week.
With the wind now in their favour, Newton Aycliffe had more of the ball and within minutes of the restart they felt aggrieved when Atkinson appeared to be tugged back when through on goal but play was allowed to continue.
Mellanby brought two good saves from Cook and Young sent a free kick just wide of goal but a determined Bay side were giving little away.
Stephen Buzzeo was having arguably his best game in Bay colours while once again McDonald was looking impressive in defence.
Craig McFarlane replaced Brad Brooking for the last quarter of the game and was soon using his pace down the wing to good effect.
With 15 minutes to go, he drilled a shot across goal and only just wide after Chris Reid’s free kick was not properly cleared.
Chow then broke through but fired over the bar when well placed.
Whitley still needed a third goal to make the game safe and when it came, just three minutes later, it was in somewhat comical circumstances.
Spence raced out of his goal to attempt the clearance of a loose ball but in a calamitous mix up, he hit the ball into the groin of defender Liam Clough and it cannoned away from both players as they lay on the ground and with no other defender inside the penalty area and the goal at his mercy, it left Tony Stephenson with the easiest goal he will ever score.
The game was now won and when Buzzeo was replaced in a late substitution, his man of the match performance was acknowledged by the resounding applause that he received from around the ground.
The win, their fourth in five games, took Whitley into the top ten of the table and put them in great heart ahead of the Northumberland Senior Cup semi-final.
The momentum is certainly building as four days earlier, Alex Kempster’s first half goal created a major upset when Whitley knocked FA Vase semi finalists West Auckland out of the League Cup on their own ground.
Whitley Bay: Cook, Brooking (McFarlane 67 mins), McDonald, Buzzeo (McMullen 82), Smith, Reid, Burns (Bott 45), Ameobi, Stephenson, Chow, Kempster.