Whitley Bay’s bid to win the League Cup for the first time since 1971 ended when they were beaten in the semi-final at Marske United on Saturday.
But was a closely contested encounter and only in the final 15 minutes did the home side gain the upper hand.
Whitley went into the game without eight first team regulars, five of whom were cup-tied while several others were suffering from injuries picked up during the hectic final weeks of the season.
Those who were brought into the side performed admirably but in the end the extra depth and experience in the Marske squad proved decisive.
The hosts thought they had made the perfect start when Adam Preston had the ball in the Bay net after just 32 seconds, but their celebrations were cut short as the goal was ruled out for offside.
In the third minute, Alex Kempster was tripped 25 yards from goal but David Berry’s free kick, played short, was cut out by the Marske defence.
Two minutes later Kempster broke through and tried to go round keeper James Briggs but was forced wide and the ball ran out of play.
The opening goal came in the ninth minute when a long ball over the top by Marske’s Adam Wheatley was flicked on by Reece Kelly from fully 25 yards and the ball flew over Dan Gladstone and dipped just inside the corner of the Bay net.
Whitley were dealt a second blow five minutes later when Callum Anderson had to be substituted. A key member of the team, his inclusion in the side was something of a gamble as he had missed the previous three games with a hamstring injury and was not fully fit.
His replacement was Nikolay Ivanov, who had performed well at Guisborough two days earlier and deserved this opportunity.
Whitley steadily worked their way into the game and after Chris McDonald had fired narrowly wide, the young left back turned provider as he sent over a cross which Adam Shanks glanced inches past the far post.
At the back, Whitley were increasingly assured with Graham Williams, brought in from the reserves, looking a particularly good prospect at the centre of defence.
Dillon Blake, making his first start of the season, was working hard in midfield and nine minutes before the interval, he was tripped as he broke forward on the right and from the resultant free kick Kempster shot just past the post.
Whitley were getting on top now and when Kempster again ran at the Marske defence he had his heels clipped as he broke into the right edge of the 18-yard box. Referee Shane Sugden had no hesitation in awarding a penalty and Shanks drove the spot kick high into the net for a well deserved equaliser.
It was also a milestone for the former Alnwick striker as it was his 40th goal of a hugely productive first season in Bay colours.
With the goal coming just three minutes before the interval, it was all to play for when the second half got under way, and within two minutes of the restart, Shanks curled a shot beyond Briggs but also over the bar.
At the other end, Preston brought a fine fingertip save from Gladstone before Whitley responded with Blake trying his luck with a first time effort only for the ball to clear the bar.
It was a real end to end game with both sides going close, and one of Whitley’s best chances came in the 67th minute when Ivanov broke forward from the right and beat two opponents before cutting the ball back across the face of goal. Shanks dived forward with the goal at his mercy but could not get enough power on the ball and his header drifted just beyond the far post.
Ivanov then made another good run into the box but could not get his shot on target, firing over the bar.
Six minutes after coming off the bench, Marske’s leading scorer Jamie Owens, made the crucial breakthrough. Latching onto a ball played though the Bay defence by Luke Bythway, his powerful 20-yard shot found the net despite Gladstone getting a hand to the ball.
With little more than ten minutes remaining, David Berry who had suffered a head injury, was replaced by Glenn Reardon while Hylton Laws was also brought off the bench in an effort to rescue the game.
Fatigue was now having its effect on both sides but Marske were able to bring on two experienced substitutes in Brunskill and Newby, who restricted Whitley’s attacking play in the closing stages.
After Gladstone had pushed a shot from Mulligan round the post, further pressure brought a corner on the left from which Owens leapt to head against the post. When the ball rebounded back into play, Preston had the simple task of slotting it home from close range.
There was no way back now for Whitley, who had given their all but had come up just short against the defending league champions, who will meet holders Shildon in the final.
Whitley Bay: Gladstone, McFarlane, McDonald, Day, Williams, Blake, Berry (Reardon 76), Anderson (Ivanov 14), Shanks, Davis (Laws 80), Kempster.