Perfect start to league season for Whitley Bay

Peter Watling celebrates his second goal in Whitley Bay's 3-0 win over West Auckland.

Peter Watling celebrates his second goal in Whitley Bay's 3-0 win over West Auckland.

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Whitley Bay made the best possible start to their Northern League season with a comfortable victory at Hillheads over one of last season’s high fliers, West Auckland.

On his farewell home appearance before he leaves for a new job in Dubai next week, striker Peter Watling scored twice, one at either end of the first half, with Callum Anderson adding the third shortly after half-time.

There were four debutants in the home starting line-up, including midweek signing Adam Shanks, while former FA Vase winner Steve Gibson returned to the Whitley ranks four years after leaving the club.

It took Whitley just five minutes to break down the Auckland defence. Sam Norris burst clear on the right, out-sprinting defender Lee Farrington before delivering a low cross that the visitors failed to cut out and Watling took full advantage, firing home at the back post to give Bay an early lead.

Three minutes later Shanks played the ball into the path of Mark Bertram who drove a 20-yard shot only just over the bar.

Whitley remained in the ascendency and with 14 minutes played the Auckland defence struggled to clear a right wing corner and a first time shot from Anderson cannoned off a defender and was blocked at point blank range.

There was a moment of anxiety in the Bay defence when a long bouncing ball led to hesitancy on the edge of his area by keeper Andy Jennison, who just managed to kick the ball clear as an opponent closed in.

Back came Whitley and when Bertram played the ball across the edge of the penalty area, Alex Kempster sent a header beyond the far post.

A minute later, Watling cut the ball back from near the right byline and Shanks only just failed to get a shot on target.

Just before the half hour the visitors mounted an attack but captain Michael Jameson failed to make the most of his opportunity, shooting wide as he came under pressure from the Bay defence.

Six minutes later Jameson had another chance to level the score, but Jennison made a good save from a close range shot.

Whitley had been creating much the better opportunities and seconds before the interval they deservedly doubled their lead, the goal coming from another corner that the visitors failed to deal with.

Norris took the kick from the left and the ball flew across the goalmouth to Shanks but his shot from the back of the six-yard box struck the post. However, the ball rebounded into the path of Watling who drilled it home with the Auckland defence in disarray.

There was barely time to restart before the half-time whistle blew.

Bay began the second period in positive fashion and after just 60 seconds they won a free kick about 25 yards out on the right. Gibson floated the ball into the goalmouth where Kempster challenged and keeper David Knight punched it clear, but only as far as Anderson, whose slightly mis-hit lob curled over the stranded keeper and dipped just under the bar for his first league goal in almost 200 games and only his second in competitive football.

The goal ended any realistic hope West Auckland had of getting back in the game and Whitley comfortably saw out the rest of the game with few alarms.

Watling might have completed his hat-trick when played in by Shanks but he failed to get enough power on his shot and Knight had no problems making the save.

Midway through the half, in a double substitution, Kris Goss replaced Shanks, with Chris Reid taking the place of Gibson.

Reid was not far off target with a header from another corner by Norris, who impressed more in this game than in any of the nine appearances he made late last season.

Goss tested Knight with a header across goal from a Kempster free kick late on, but at the other end, there was no way through the Bay rearguard for the visitors, with central defender Richard Flynn looking strong while Chris McDonald gave an assured performance on the left side of defence.

In midfield, Bertram got through a lot of work, while the fourth debutant Shanks can be happy with his contribution alongside Watling.

Manager Paddy Atkinson praised his players for their performances on a warm afternoon.

“I’m really pleased, the set plays were good, we made chances and we looked like we were going to score,” he said.

“Sam Norris had a point to prove; last season he was getting his fitness back and was playing on bobbly pitches. Today he got the plaudits from some of the fans. When he runs at people he offers something different.

“Adam Shanks did well, his movement was good; he created space for Peter (Watling). In fact he could have scored a couple himself.”

Whitley Bay: Jennison, Gibson (Reid 68), McDonald, Anderson (Redhead 88), Laws, Flynn, Norris, Bertram, Watling, Shanks (Goss 68), Kemspter. Subs not used: Gladstone, Young.