Whitley Bay lose out at set-pieces in defeat to Morpeth Town

Whitley Bay's Dominic McGarr leaps to win a header during a first half attack against Morpeth Town.
Whitley Bay's Dominic McGarr leaps to win a header during a first half attack against Morpeth Town.
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Whitley Bay’s three-match winning run came to an end with a narrow defeat at Morpeth with all five goals coming in a 20-minute spell in the second half.

Craik Park has not been one of Whitley’s happiest hunting grounds over the years, with their most memorable performances being reserved for cup ties.

And on a difficult playing surface, their latest visit was never going to be a classic.

In the only change to the side that enjoyed a six-goal romp at Celtic Nation in midweek, Craig McFarlane returned in place of Phil Cave, while in the opposition ranks was former Bay defender James Novak.

Like Whitley, Morpeth were on a good run of form, having won five of their previous six, so a closely contested affair was expected, and that is exactly how it turned out.

Morpeth started brightly but both sides were having problems on the soft pitch which soon cut up, and with the ball bobbling about passes often went astray with shots on target at a premium.

When Morpeth’s Sean Taylor tested Thomas Flynn after 16 minutes, the Bay keeper made a good save low down, while three minutes later a Whitley free kick was put behind for a corner.

Town defender David Hiftle was cautioned when he brought down Alex Kempster just outside the 18-yard box, and shortly afterwards the home side conceded another free kick for a trip on Sam Norris, but the visitors were unable to capitalise on either set piece.

When play reverted to the other end, the dangerous looking Taylor brought a fine block from Flynn as the hosts went close on several occasions but could not beat the in-form keeper.

Peter Watling caused a scare in the Morpeth defence just past the half hour when keeper Karl Dryden failed to make a clean save from his angled shot, only grabbing the ball at the second attempt as it rolled tantalisingly close to the goal line.

The closest either side came to breaking the deadlock in the first half arrived five minutes before the interval when a 20-yard effort from Morpeth midfielder Ben Sayer crashed off the bar with Flynn leaping to push the follow up attempt over the top.

Pressure was mounting on Whitley and from the resultant corner Flynn again excelled with a one-handed save.

Right on half-time the keeper pushed away another shot from Taylor to send the sides in level at the break.

Four minutes into the second period Morpeth took the lead when a right wing corner ended up in the net after taking an unlucky deflection off Kempster.

But straight from the restart the young midfielder responded with a surging run down the left which saw Dryden push the ball behind. Robbie Bird’s corner was knocked out as far as Andy Ferrell who played it back into the six-yard box where Dominic McGarr headed it down and into the net off the inside of the post to put Whitley back on level terms.

Morpeth’s lead had lasted just 100 seconds, and with renewed confidence Whitley pushed forward and they were rewarded six minutes later when they grabbed the lead.

Sam Norris was the provider, squaring the ball from the right edge of the penalty area for the unmarked Watling to score from just beyond the back post.

The game had attracted Morpeth’s biggest crowd of the season and the large contingent of Bay fans were beginning to scent their fourth consecutive victory, but the goal rush was far from over and Town battled back to draw level after 65 minutes.

The equaliser came when Whitley were guilty of failing to defend a corner and allowed vastly experienced striker Michael Chilton to head home his 26th league goal of the season.

The hosts stepped up the pressure and within a minute Flynn produced an excellent close range save, but there was little he could do in the 70th minute when Jordan Fry poked home from close range following another set-piece move.

Chances continued at both ends and twice in the final minutes Whitley might have snatched an equaliser.

A neat ball over the top from Bird put Watling through but his first time effort flew the wrong side of the post, while in stoppage time, McFarlane’s run down the right almost brought rewards but he, Bird and substitute Jake Richardson were all denied and Morpeth held on to claim a victory they just about merited on the balance of play.

Whitley Bay: Flynn, McFarlane, McDonald, Blandford, Laws, McGarr, Norris (Richardson 85), Ferrell, Watling, Bird, Kempster. Subs not used: King, Cave, McBride, Robinson.