A late goal by West Auckland denied Whitley Bay what would have been a well deserved victory over the FA Vase finalists West Auckland.
For the second time in a month, Whitley looked to be heading for a 1-0 win over the south west Durham side after controlling the game for long periods.
But they were unable to hold on and had to be content with a point.
Although disappointed with the outcome, manager Leon Ryan said it was an indication of the improvement the side had made in recent weeks that they were unhappy at only drawing away to one of the strongest sides in the league.
With goalkeeper Mark Cook unavailable, 18-year-old Daniel Gladstone came into the side for only his second appearance, while there were three further changes from the starting 11 that beat Bishop Auckland in the midweek League Cup tie.
West Auckland, facing a backlog of fixtures due to their cup success, were playing their fourth game of the week and rotated their large squad but were still able to field a strong side.
After a quiet opening, the first incident of note came in the ninth minute when Gladstone raced out of his goal and brought down John Campbell as the West Auckland striker broke clear on the left edge of the area.
It was a clear penalty but the incident did not unsettle the young keeper who redeemed himself by making a great save, diving full length to keep out Campbell’s spot kick.
Not only did he keep the ball out but he held it cleanly, thereby denying Campbell the opportunity to seize on a rebound.
Within two minutes Whitley went close when a long ball upfield was played on by Paul Chow to Craig Hubbard whose shot flew past the post. Before play could continue, Whitley were forced into an early substitution when Brad Brooking suffered a hamstring injury and was replaced by Thomas Bott.
Whitley were enjoying the better of the game, looking quicker to the ball and posing a threat down both wings with Jarrett Rivers in particular causing problems for defenders.
Bay looked well organised in defence and were controlling midfield with the result that Gladstone was not being put under any real pressure.
With 22 minutes on the clock, an audacious long range shot from Callum Anderson almost caught out keeper Oliver Simpson, who was well off his line, but the ball drifted just wide.
Just past the half hour, Auckland were penalised for a foul 25 yards from goal and Chris Reid’s free kick was only kept out by a diving header from Alex Francis.
The resulting right wing corner saw Reid add to his ever increasing goal tally with a near post header, capitalising on poor defending to record his fourth in successive games and his ninth of the season, an impressive record for a defender.
Whitley were well on top and the home side soon put themselves under further pressure with another foul just outside their penalty area, but this time the danger was cleared.
Chow then seized on to a long ball forward but could not shake off the challenge of defender Adam Wilkinson, who denied him a shot on goal with a crucial tackle.
Reid then curled another free kick wide of the target as Whitley dominated proceedings.
Well into stoppage time, Bott burst forward from well inside his own half but as he closed in on goal he tumbled to the ground under a challenge from Wilkinson and referee Dean Chapman immediately awarded a penalty.
Auckland defender Daryll Hall was cautioned after strongly disputing the decision, but just as had happened at the other end earlier in the half, keeper Simpson went the right way and kept out Chow’s spot kick.
The ball ran loose and Chow twice saw shots blocked before West Auckland cleared their lines.
Playing down the slope after the interval, Whitley, despite looking comfortable, were not posing the same threat as earlier in the game.
Midway through the half, they created a chance to extend their lead when Chow played the ball through to Rivers but he could not find the target.
With Whitley only having a one goal advantage, West knew that they were still in with a chance and gradually stepped up a gear, increasing the pressure as the game went into the last 15 minutes.
Gladstone had to be alert on several occasions when long balls were pumped forward over the Bay defence, but he responded well, racing off his line and more than once advancing outside the 18-yard box to clear the ball, showing confidence when under pressure.
Whitley’s defenders were now being tested but Ryan and Reid in particular were winning the high balls and giving nothing away.
Eleven minutes from time, Andy Robertson, who had earlier replaced Chow, hobbled off injured with Tony Stephenson taking his place.
West were really pushing forward now and they eventually gained their reward seven minutes from time.
Whitley could not clear their lines and after a goalmouth scramble, substitute Kris Wilkinson prodded the ball home for the equaliser.
To their credit, Whitley did not let their heads drop and twice in the remaining minutes might have snatched a winner.
Firstly, Stephenson was played through with only Simpson to beat but the keeper blocked the ball on the edge of the penalty area.
Then Michael McMullen’s cross into the goalmouth was partly blocked by Hall with Francis grateful to put the ball behind for a corner.
While two dropped points severely dented their championship hopes, it was West Auckland who probably felt the happier side having rescued a point so late in the game.
Whitley, though, can take pride from a battling display against a side who have lost only three league games this season.
Another positive is that on the evidence of this game they have a talented young goalkeeper in Gladstone.
Whitley Bay: Gladstone, Brooking (Bott 11), McDonald, Anderson, Ryan, Reid, McMullen, Hubbard, Rivers, Chow (Robertson 65, Stephenson 79), Buzzeo. Subs not used: Kempster, Smith.