All the excitement in Whitley Bay’s midweek derby at Bedlington Terriers was reserved for the final 20 minutes.
In the closing stages there were three goals, three players sent off and a plethora of yellow cards brandished by referee Terry Fletcher.
Once again Whitley went into the game with an under strength side and with keeper Mark Cook absent due to work commitments, Dan Gladstone took over in goal despite not being fully fit.
Terriers, now managed by former Whitley Reserves coach Ian Skinner, came into the game having gained a good point at Guisborough in their opening fixture.
There was little to enthuse over in a dull first half, when Whitley’s main threat came from Paul Chow and Robbie Bird, the latter being thwarted on several occasions by Bedlington’s recent signing, former Blyth defender Joe Kendrick.
The home side struggled to break down a makeshift Bay defence but when they did get a sight of goal they were wasteful, spurning three clear opportunities.
Firstly after 28 minutes Dylan Williamson blazed his shot high over the bar, then five minutes later a weak effort from Sam Walton failed to trouble Gladstone and two minutes from the interval the Bay keeper did well to push an attempt from Jordan Nellis past the post.
A strong challenge from a Bedlington striker shortly before the break did nothing for Gladstone’s fitness, and on the restart the Terriers quickly tested him with a long range effort that drifted wide.
The game looked to be drifting towards a goal less draw as neither side seemed able to produce a telling shot on target, but after 65 minutes Whitley won a free kick just outside the Terriers’ penalty area and when McDonald played the ball short, Anderson set up Bird whose shot flew just wide of goal.
A move involving the same players six minutes later finally saw the game come alive after Craig McFarlane cut the ball back from near the right by-line where Chow rose to send a header crashing off bar and Callum Anderson got his head to the rebound and Bird lashed the ball into the net from the left edge of the six-yard box.
A few minutes later, Bay’s fitness coach David Berry, who had been brought in to bolster the weakened side, was replaced by Stephen Buzzeo as Whitley sought to retain their lead.
With ten minutes to go, there were amazing scenes as Bedlington players started celebrating what they thought was an equaliser, but with the referee waving play on, Whitley raced down to the other end, Bird’s pace taking him clear of the Terriers’ defence who had lost their concentration amid the mistaken celebrations. Keeper Sean McCafferty rushed off his line but brought down Bird just inside the 18-yard box and the referee had no alternative but to award a penalty and show McCafferty a red card.
Terriers captain Kendrick, furious at the course of events, was also sent off.
Keeping calm amidst all the fury from the home side, Chow waited for substitute keeper Rhys Jobling to take his place between the posts before coolly slotting the ball home to put Whitley two goals ahead.
Against nine men for the last ten minutes it seemed that Whitley would cruise to a comfortable if rather unexpected victory, but having exploded to life, the game had several more twists and turns.
Five minutes from time, substitute Conor Winter scrambled the ball home for Bedlington to set up a frantic finale.
Referee Mr Fletcher handed out a number of yellow cards to both sides for seemingly trivial offences and when Craig McFarlane retaliated to a kick in an off the ball incident, he was shown the third red card in the space of six minutes.
Whitley looked in danger of losing their discipline and also their lead as yet more cautions were handed out, but after some last ditch defending and five minutes of added time, the final whistle signalled a victory that had been hard earned by a much depleted squad.
While it had not been a great spectacle, with this spirit in the side, the prospects look promising when the missing players return, but with injuries and holiday commitments, it will be a few weeks yet before a full strength side is available.
Whitley Bay: Gladstone, McFarlane, McDonald, Brooking, Harris, Smith, Berry (Buzzeo 75), Anderson, Bott, Chow, Bird.