Whitley Bay close in on top three finish

Chris Fawcett scores Whitley Bay's third goal in the 3-0 win over South Shields.
Chris Fawcett scores Whitley Bay's third goal in the 3-0 win over South Shields.
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Whitley Bay’s third win in six days increased their chances of a top three finish while pushing South Shields to the brink of relegation.

The Mariners were effectively sunk after just ten minutes, by which time the home side had scored twice to put them in complete control.

On a mild and sunny afternoon, a surprise inclusion in the Bay side was Ash Davis, back home on a short visit from Australia.

There were no fewer than seven changes from the side that won at Celtic Nation on Wednesday evening, but one of those who kept his place was teenage striker Lewis Burns, and it was his first senior goal that put Whitley ahead after just 90 seconds.

The goal came when Brad Brooking’s cross from the right was headed towards goal by Paul Chow.

Shields keeper James Winter dived to palm the ball past the far post, but only as far as Burns who slotted it into the net from a narrow angle.

A bad start for the Mariners soon got worse as they struggled to contain a tide of Bay attacks, and Chow doubled the lead after ten minutes when he breached the visitors defence before chipping the ball over Winter from six yards for his 46th goal of the season.

Shortly afterwards, Davis had a shot finger-tipped over the bar by Winter before Shields briefly threatened when Kyle Hayes had to push Chris Feasey’s cross from the right over the bar.

The game became more even for a while but Whitley always posed the more potent threat, and Chow headed narrowly wide from Burns cross.

Andrew Thompson then fired in a 25-yard free kick which Hayes saved comfortably, but it was Whitley who finished the half stronger, twice going close to extending their lead.

Five minutes before the interval, Davis had a shot saved by Winter and when the ball ran loose, Chow was denied by the post, but an offside flag had already been raised.

Just before the whistle, James Novak’s ball from the left was driven only inches past the post by Chow with Winter well beaten.

Burns was having an impressive game and shortly after the restart, he raced past a defender on the right wing before drilling the ball low across the face of goal but with no one was on hand to apply the finishing touch.

Davis twice went close to getting a crucial third for Whitley but was thwarted by the overworked keeper, while substitute Chris Fawcett headed over the bar from Novak’s corner.

Realising that their survival hopes were ebbing away, Shields tried hard to find a way back into the game but could make little impression on a seemingly watertight Bay defence, in which Callum Anderson, only recently recovered from injury, was in fine form and was Ian Chandler’s nomination for man of the match.

The quality of Whitley’s substitutes was evident in the closing stages as along with Fawcett, James Fairley and Paul Robinson also troubled the Mariners’ tiring defence as they launched a series of attacks.

Fawcett was denied a chance on goal by Shields substitute Gary Crutwell who cut out Fairley’s teasing cross, then Robinson went close with a shot that was saved by Winter.

The Mariners’ slim hopes of getting back into the game were finally sunk a minute from time when Fawcett exchanged passes with Robinson before firing a right foot shot past Winter from 15 yards.

It was Fawcett’s tenth goal of a productive season in which he has shown his best form yet in a Bay shirt.

The goal was also Whitley’s 100th in the league this season.

With West Auckland losing for the third game in a row, Whitley’s win takes them to within five points of third place with two games in hand, so there is still everything to play for in the remaining five league games.

After the game, South Shields manager and former Bay striker Jon King acknowledged that Whitley were much the better side but bemoaned the absence of several of his key players through suspension and unavailability, and his side now faces the near certainty of relegation.

Whitley Bay: Hayes, Brooking, Novak, Anderson, B Smith, Scroggins, Downey (Fairley 58 mins), Kerr, Davis (Robinson 78 mins), Chow, Burns (Fawcett 58 mins)