Whitley Bay are now facing a battle to avoid relegation after they lost 1-0 at home to bottom-of-the-table Norton and Stockton Ancients in cold and blustery conditions at Hillheads on Tuesday evening.
They now find themselves in unfamiliar territory, just three points off the bottom of the table, and though they still have games in hand on all the sides around them, this was a golden opportunity to pick up three points.
Bay are fourth from bottom with 18 points and only above 20th-placed Bedlington Terriers on goal difference.
They had enough chances to win the game comfortably but were let down by poor finishing and denied by some good goalkeeping.
In the opening 20 minutes, Chris Youldon and Adam Shanks both went close, but the nearest Whitley got to scoring was in the 26th minute, when Shanks struck the post with a low shot after appearing to be held back by a defender as he broke through on goal. Just before the interval, the visitors, who had the benefit of the wind at their backs in the opening period, went close, but Phillip Caley’s shot was pushed round the post by Andy Jennison, with the keeper getting his hand to a shot from the resultant corner.
Four minutes after the restart, Shanks saw a lobbed shot headed almost off the line by Adam Morley, then Bay’s captain on the night, Callum Anderson, had a blistering shot well saved low down by Michael Thackeray.
The only goal of the game came in the 55th minute when a Norton free-kick near the right corner flag was knocked home at the back post by Matty Lovegreen.
Despite continuing to have plenty of the ball, Whitley could not break down a determined Norton defence, and their evening was summed up when deep into stoppage time, Sam Norris drove the ball into the Teessiders’ side netting when well placed to score.
The only bright spot in a dismal performance by Whitley was the return of defender Craig McFarlane, who came off the bench for the final 15 minutes of the game. It was his first appearance since suffering a broken ankle last April.
Whitley Bay: Jennison, Gibson, McDonald, Lumsden, Flynn, Anderson, Norris, Bell, Shanks (McFarlane 76 mins), Youldon (Foalle 67 mins), Kempster (Hughes 80 mins).Substitutes not used: Laws, Williamson.
Referee: Chris Ellis.
Whitley Bay will make a short trip west along the Coast Road on Saturday to take on Newcastle Benfield at Sam Smith’s Park.
The sides have yet to meet this season, and for Benfield it will be only their second game since November.
On Tuesday evening next week, Whitley are hoping to play their much-postponed Techflow Group Northumberland Senior Cup quarter-final at home to Morpeth Town. Kick-off will be at 7.30pm.