In one of the most dramatic knockout ties ever seen at Hillheads Park, Whitley Bay beat Matlock Town on penalties to earn a place in the FA Cup’s second qualifying round for the first time in five years.
This game had absolutely everything – six goals, including an equaliser in the last minute of extra time, two controversial sendings-off and six cautions.
Whitley stunned their Derbyshire visitors, who play two leagues higher than them in the non-league pyramid, by taking a sixth-minute lead.
Top scorer Adam Shanks got the goal after dispossessing a defender and, from a very narrow angle, beating keeper George Willis with an excellent shot that took the slightest of deflections as it crept in at the far post.
Matlock then battled back, showing more determination than in their game on Saturday, a goalless draw, but found the Bay defence resolute.
Whitley were making better use of possession, and four minutes before the interval, they doubled their lead.
This time Shanks was the architect of the goal, his cross hitting the bar and rebounding for Sam Norris to power home from close range.
It was his first goal for the club and put Whitley in the driving seat at the interval.
The visitors were posing more of a threat now and pulled a goal back after 55 minutes when Joel Purkiss netted from close range after a good passage of play.
Disaster struck for Whitley two minutes later when Shanks, already booked for a foul in the first half, was shown a second yellow, referee Danny Markham deeming that he had deliberately kicked the ball away, even though he appeared to be attempting to keep it in play and no whistle had been blown.
Another contentious decision by the referee saw Bay’s teenage striker Robbie Willamson sent off with just over 11 minutes of normal time remaining, though the consensus among the crowd was that his determined challenge deserved no more than a yellow.
With Bay now down to nine men, it was a real backs-to-the-wall effort as they tried to hold out, but with five minutes left, the visitors equalised through captain Danny Holland.
The referee was losing control of the game, and with tension mounting, two Matlock players were cautioned in quick succession.
Amazingly, and ignoring the advice of his assistant, Mr Markham cautioned the wrong player, and with Nicky Travis clearly expecting to be shown a second yellow and be dismissed, the referee instead penalised the innocent Liam Needham.
In stoppage time, Matlock pushed hard for a winner but were denied, with Andy Jennison pushing a goalbound effort from Purkiss over the bar, then Richard Flynn made a crucial block.
The game went into extra time with Whitley’s best hope seeming to be to try to hold out and take the tie to penalties.
Their prospects seemed bleak with their two-man disadvantage, and even more so when in the ninth minute of the first period, Matlock took the lead through substitute Jack Siddall.
This looked to be the point at which the visitors would take a firm grip on proceedings, but Whitley were not prepared to lie down and kept their hopes alive with a stirring fightback in the second period of extra time.
Josh Day made a vital tackle when Maxfield looked sure to put the tie beyond Whitley with a fourth goal, but the longer the game progressed, the more Whitley pushed forward, urged on by their increasingly-vociferous fans.
Aris Guerin fired a low shot inches past the post, and then in the very last minute, Whitley won a corner.
With goalkeeper Andy Jennison joining the attack, there was confusion in the Matlock defence and when the ball was played into the goalmouth, it was headed home by Chris Reid for a dramatic equaliser amid scenes of jubilation both on and off the pitch.
There was barely time to restart the game before the final whistle was blown.
Matlock were shellshocked by the late equaliser, and it showed in the penalty shootout when Travis, who was fortunate to still be on the pitch, failed with Matlock’s first spot kick, Jennison making an excellent save.
Reid made no mistake as he put Whitley ahead, and while the visitors scored with their second kick, Richard Flynn kept Whitley in front with another well-taken kick.
When Jennison made another fine save from Holland, Chris McDonald put Whitley within sight of victory, but the glory of striking the winning penalty went to Kris Hughes, who coolly slotted the ball home for an unassailable 4-2 lead, to ensure prize money of £3,000 and a home tie against Congleton in the next round a week on Saturday.
The ovation that greeted the players as they left the pitch was reminiscent of those that followed Whitley’s FA Vase semi final wins against Barwell and Poole Town.
Reflecting on the game, a delighted Paddy Atkinson showered praise on his players.
“You won’t see many games like that. What a cup tie! These are the sort of days that Whitley Bay are famous for,” he said.
“In the last 10 minutes, the energy was tremendous, we created chances, and what a goal!”
“The two sendings-off were absolutely horrendous, but we’ve got a tremendous team spirit, and that was what made the difference.”
Whitley Bay: Jennison, Gibson (Guerin 104mins), McDonald, Flynn, Laws, Reid, Norris (Williamson 63mins), Anderson (Day 45mins), Shanks, Hughes, Kempster. Substitutes not used: Gladstone, Young, Redhead.