WHITLEY Bay came from behind to earn a well deserved victory in their local derby at Ashington on Saturday.
Woodhorn Lane has been a happy hunting ground for the North Tyneside outfit as they have never been beaten in the five seasons since the Colliers moved to their new home.
Both sides were looking to shake off the disappointment of FA Vase defeats the previous weekend, and on a cold but sunny afternoon a large contingent of Bay fans made the short journey to watch what was only Whitley’s second league game since Christmas.
With Chris Reid working away in India, and both Callum Anderson and Brian Smith also unavailable, Craig Smith was brought into the centre of defence.
Ashington included three former Whitley Bay players in their side – Phill Bell, Glen Taylor and Andy Dugdale.
The game got off to a relatively low key start as neither side seemed able to impose themselves, and as a result, much of the play was in midfield and few chances were created at either end.
The visitors’ first attempt on goal came after five minutes when Lee Kerr fired over, then at the other end Bell drove the ball into the side-netting from out on the left.
Bay were next to threaten as Kerr’s free kick was comfortably saved on the half hour before Paul Chow headed over from a Paul Robinson cross.
Five minutes before the interval, Glen Taylor’s pass saw defender James Taylor test Kyle Hayes with a low shot that the Bay keeper pushed away from goal.
Then a minute before the break, the Colliers took the lead following a mistake in the Whitley defence.
James Novak played the ball across the face of goal and it was intercepted by Bell who flicked it on to Glen Taylor, and he took advantage of a slip by Brad Brooking to slot the ball home from close range.
Whitley may have felt they deserved to go in level after a half which was evenly contested, but the goal was what the game needed and it meant they had to show a more positive approach in the second half.
That is certainly what happened as they heeded Ian Chandler’s message to push forward and stretch the Ashington defence more effectively.
Four minutes after the restart, LeePaul Scroggins brought a fine save from Colliers’ keeper Karl Dryden, who needed to be at full stretch to push a powerful shot away from goal.
A few minutes later, Novak’s 20-yard shot was pushed behind as Whitley won another corner.
Bay deservedly drew level after 55 minutes when Novak played a perfect pass to Kerr out on the right wing and he caught the home defence by surprise with a first time cross into the area where former Ashington player Chris Fawcett turned and fired a great left footed shot low past Dryden.
Despite the absence of key defenders Reid and Anderson, Whitley were having little problem containing the attacking threat of tall strikers Bell and Taylor, while the normally impressive Andrew Johnson was making little impact.
Craig Smith, who had played well in only his third start, was substituted with just under 20 minutes remaining, and in the absence of the usual defensive cover, Chow was pulled back to bolster the back line, a role he filled effectively.
Whitley were looking the stronger side and when Fawcett cut the ball back from the by-line, a looping header from Scroggins was held by Dryden just under the bar.
The winning goal came 14 minutes from time when Chow played the ball out of defence to Fawcett whose lob over the retreating Ashington defence was pounced on by Ash Davis who took the ball past Dryden and a defender before slotting it into the empty net.
A disappointing and somewhat lack lustre Colliers side never really put pressure on the Whitley defence in the closing stages, with Craig McFarlane working tirelessly alongside Chow to deny the home side possession.
Substitute Ian Watson posed a threat to the home side late on with his pace down the left wing as Whitley ran out worthy winners and held on to fourth place in the table.
Manager Ian Chandler was understandably delighted with his side’s second half performance.
“The first half was petering out to a non-event and I would have been reasonably happy if it had stayed 0-0 to half-time, but a mistake meant we went in a goal behind.
“We stretched them more in the second half and the pace in the team caused them a lot of problems.
“It was a great goal from Chrissy Fawcett with his left foot, then Ash tapped the ball home from the edge of the box with his right for the second.
“Ash was a one man battering ram. He led the line really well. Chowy dropped in at the back and did really well. Craig Smith was excellent, he hasn’t played for a long time but he came in and did really well and will be pushing for a regular start.”
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Brooking (Watson 53 mins), Novak, McFarlane, C Smith (Fairley 71), Scroggins, Kerr, Fawcett, Davis, Chow, Robinson (Pounder 83).