Whitley Bay staged a spirited comeback to claim victory in dramatic style at Penrith and in doing so completed a league double over the Cumbrians.
A sizeable contingent of Bay fans made the 80-mile journey, the club’s longest league trip of the season, and they were rewarded with a grandstand finish as Whitley scored twice in the last eight minutes to stun the home side who had appeared at one stage to be cruising to victory.
Penrith were playing their first home game in three months as the Frenchfield Park pitch had been badly affected by the prolonged wet weather and although it was now playable, the surface soon started to cut up and with a stiff breeze blowing, conditions were far from ideal.
There was little to choose between the sides in the opening stages but it was Whitley who took the lead after 11 minutes after good work by Alex Kempster on the right wing. From close to the by-line he cut the ball back across the penalty area and Jarrett Rivers, 12 yards from goal, threaded a low shot past two defenders and beyond keeper Josh Richardson into the far corner of the net.
The goal seemed to unsettle the home side and barely three minutes later they conceded a free kick 20 yards out on the left, with Paul Chow’s shot being punched clear by the under pressure keeper.
It was a similar move at the other end that led to the equaliser.
There were 18 minutes on the clock when Whitley were penalised just outside the left edge of their penalty area and Matthew Read’s free kick found Steven Rigg unmarked barely eight yards out and his header gave Bay keeper Mark Cook no chance.
Penrith gradually gained the upper hand as the half continued and just past the half hour Cameron Wilson fired a shot across goal with the ball flying just beyond the far post.
The home side continued in the ascendency but Whitley were defending well and despite their possession, Penrith could not capitalise and the scores remained level at the interval.
Early in the second half Callum Anderson took a knock on the face and was unable to continue with Callum Hope taking his place in midfield.
With 62 minutes played, another good effort from Wilson, this time a shot from distance, flew inches over the Whitley bar.
But two minutes later Penrith went ahead when Whitley once again failed to deal with a cross into the goalmouth. This time it was an in-swinging corner from Read that led to the goal, the ball being headed home from close range by Shaun Gardner.
The goal was no more than Penrith deserved and at this stage Whitley were struggling to make an impact as the Cumbrians stepped up a gear and took a grip of midfield.
With time running out, it began to look as if Leon Ryan’s unbeaten start as manager was coming to an end.
David Berry was brought on in place of Stephen Buzzeo for the final quarter of the game as Whitley tried to stem the flow of home attacking moves, a change that seemed to have the desired effect.
Whitley’s battling spirit really came to the fore in the final 15 minutes as they began to push the home side back on the defensive.
Tony Stephenson had a goal ruled out for what looked a marginal offside but when, eight minutes from time, Chow cut the ball across goal, Stephenson gleefully lashed it into the net from ten yards to level the score and set up an exciting climax.
While he rightly celebrated his first goal for the club and was mobbed by team-mates, Kempster’s thoughts were clearly on pressing for a winner as he raced back to the halfway line with the ball.
His positive attitude almost brought its reward a few minutes later when the promising teenager, who had been battling away all game, was played clear on goal by Chow’s precision pass but he fired his shot over the bar, and it looked as if Whitley’s chance of an unlikely victory had gone.
However, the tremendous spirit engendered by Ryan and Steve Foster brought its reward in the 89th minute when diminutive substitute Hope, showing great perseverance, cut in to the penalty area and refusing to be deterred by bigger defenders broke through to fire past Richardson from ten yards and spark scenes of jubilation as the entire Bay team joined in the celebrations.
The goal seemed to really knock the stuffing out of a tiring Penrith side who looked shell-shocked by Whitley’s dramatic comeback, which was reminiscent of some of their FA Vase victories of recent years.
Hope and Stephenson, both of whom scored their first goals for the club, gave impressive performances, as did another of the recent signings, Chris McDonald, but this was a triumph for teamwork with every player contributing.
Ryan, who opted to watch his team from the dugout rather than play, was understandably delighted with the result and was full of praise for the attitude and commitment of his side.
Whitley Bay: Cook, McFarlane, McDonald, Buzzeo (Berry 71), Smith, Reid, Rivers, Anderson (Hope 56), Stephenson, Chow, Kempster. Subs not used: Day, McMullen.