EASTER Monday’s potentially exciting game between two of the top four sides in the Northern League first division was ruined by a hugely controversial decision by the match officials after only four minutes had been played.
Whitley Bay keeper Kyle Hayes raced out to clear a through ball and made contact with the ball ahead of an on-rushing Spennymoor player.
The referee let play continue but the assistant on the far side of the field from the incident flagged for a handball.
It was deemed Hayes handled the ball outside the penalty area and in doing so denied a goalscoring opportunity.
This was despite no Spennymoor player appealing for an infringement and the referee appearing to have a better view of the incident.
The inevitable outcome was red card for the Bay keeper.
Hayes insisted the ball had hit his chest and not his hand, a view backed up by fans who were in line with the incident.
With no substitute keeper available, Paul Chow took the goalkeeper’s jersey.
He has taken the role of emergency keeper in the past, but never for 86 minutes of a game.
With injuries to Chris Reid, Lee Kerr and Callum Anderson, and with James Fairley not fully fit, Whitley fielded a weakened team.
But now down to ten men, their chances against the FA Vase finalists, who had lost only one league game all season, appeared bleak, with many visiting fans fearing the worst.
Certainly the Spennymoor fans seemed to be anticipating a goal feast and for a few minutes, the Bay defence looked severely tested.
Craig McFarlane just managed to keep the ball out after confusion at the back, but with Tomi Ameobi adding height in defence, they gradually gained a measure of control.
LeePaul Scroggins was cautioned after two strong challenges in midfield but still Chow was not put under any great pressure.
Chris Fawcett was playing as a lone striker and he stunned the home crowd after 17 minutes with a first time finish past Robert Dean after an excellent burst from midfield by Brad Brooking had set up the chance.
It was Whitley’s first real attack and against all the odds the ten men were a goal in front.
Spennymoor’s Andrew Stephenson was booked for a foul soon after and with Whitley using the pace of Brooking, Fawcett and James Novak to good effect, their occasional breaks from the halfway line were troubling the champions.
When Fawcett was pushed as he leapt for a high ball, the resulting free kick 25 yards from goal saw Novak fire in a great shot that curled inches wide with Dean well beaten.
The visitors retained their lead past the half hour mark but the Moors levelled the score on 33 minutes when Andrew Stephenson got to a cross from the right ahead of Chow and headed home at the near post.
Unsurprisingly, Whitley were concentrating on defence and while they kept the champions out for the remainder of the half, former Bay captain Leon Ryan and his fellow defenders had a comparatively quiet time at the back for the home side.
Playing down the slope in the second half, the expectation was that Spennymoor would make their extra man count and go on to record a comfortable win.
It did not quite turn out that way, and for the first 15 minutes, Whitley protected Chow effectively, though when called upon his handling was assured.
Just before the hour mark in a break upfield, the impressive Novak played the ball to Paul Robinson whose piledriver of a shot was kept out by Dean.
A few minutes later, a short corner gave Novak the chance to get a shot on target but the effort was blocked.
Bay’s determined resistance was broken in the 63rd minute when a right wing corner was headed home by Moors captain Daniel Moore.
Six minutes later it was 3-1 when Ryan headed in unchallenged at the back post.
As with the other Spennymoor goals, the celebrations were distinctly subdued.
Perhaps they also saw the dismissal of Hayes as having spoiled the game as real contest.
The last 20 minutes might have seen some sides capitulate, but not so with this Whitley Bay team, who battled away skilfully and with spirit and determination, with every player contributing.
Novak and McFarlane stood out in defence while Scroggins was strong in midfield and Fawcett worked tirelessly up front and in midfield.
Three minutes from time Scroggins nearly reduced the arrears with a great shot that Dean pushed wide.
Then in stoppage time, sub James Fairley cut through only to see his shot saved.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Brooking, Novak, McFarlane, B.Smith, Pounder, Fawcett(Fairley 78mins), Scroggins, Ameobi, Chow, Robinson.