Whitley Bay’s second win in four days took them into the top half of the table on Tuesday night.
But they made hard work of their 2-1 home win over Sunderland RCA.
They dominated the first half and could have had the game wrapped up by the interval, but a combination of excellent goalkeeping, missed chances and controversial refereeing decisions saw them go in with just a one goal advantage at the break.
The visitors improved in the second half, but Whitley were still the dominant force, creating the better chances and fully deserving their victory.
On a pleasantly warm evening, the game got under way at a rapid pace and Whitley were soon causing problems for the Ryhope club’s defence.
They took the lead with just seven minutes on the clock.
Robbie Bird crossed the ball from out on the right and Peter Watling’s shot flew past Jonathan Carmichael into the bottom corner of the net.
It was his first goal for the club and his celebrations showed what it meant to him.
On the quarter hour Alex Kempster appeared to be brought down as he raced into the 18-yard box and it looked to be a clear cut penalty, but referee Paul Keogh thought otherwise and allowed play to continue.
Kempster was in the thick of the action and just two minutes later he raced through a mesmerised defence but his shot on goal was blocked and when the ball ran loose, Watling also saw his shot blocked.
It was virtually one-way traffic and barely 60 seconds later, RCA defender Alex Wilson, in attempting a clearance from Kempster’s cross, sliced the ball only inches wide of his own goal.
From the resulting corner, Bird’s goalbound shot was bravely pushed wide by the overworked Carmichael.
The keeper, who had a short spell at Hillheads last season, was then relieved to see Watling side-foot wide after a tantalising cross from the right by Craig McFarlane.
The visitors were making little impression and Whitley had another chance to extend their lead after 34 minutes when McFarlane played the ball through to Bird but his shot was blocked by Carmichael.
The second half began in similar fashion as McFarlane was again the provider, this time for Paul Chow whose header was deflected wide for a corner.
Kempster’s corner resulted in yet another attempt being blocked before Wilson, who had been testing the officials’ patience, was eventually cautioned, and team-mate Craig Price quickly followed him into the book as the visitors seemed to lose their discipline.
Chow then played a neat through ball for Watling who seemed certain to score but Carmichael made a tremendous diving save, somehow getting his fingertips to the ball and pushing it wide.
Play then switched to the other end and Dan Gladstone, who had not been troubled up to this stage, made a fine save to keep out the visitors after they won a corner on the right.
RCA substitute Joe Hughes made an immediate impact after being brought off the bench shortly before the hour mark, hitting the Whitley bar with a snap shot from out on the right.
Having nearly conceded their lead, Whitley hit back and after Watling saw another effort pushed wide, Leon Ryan’s header from a right wing corner was pushed over the bar.
Bay made their first substitution with 20 minutes remaining and it saw Stephen Buzzeo, who had contributed well in midfield, replaced by Craig Hubbard, making his first appearance of the season with his new job with Hartlepool United leaving him available only for midweek games.
A surging run from McFarlane took him past several defenders and his rasping shot stung the fingers of Carmichael as the keeper once more came to his side’s rescue with a fine save.
Still only holding a one goal advantage, Whitley were at risk of being caught on the counter attack and with 15 minutes left, experienced striker Gavin Barton threatened to put RCA back on level terms but his attempted chip shot over Gladstone was off target and drifted wide of goal.
Nervousness among the Bay fans grew further a few minutes later when Hughes fired narrowly over the bar.
A goalmouth scramble ensued after an effort from Chow was kept out by determined defending and the ball was eventually cleared.
The mood in the crowd became more relaxed when Whitley eventually doubled their lead with just seven minutes left.
The build up to the goal was surrounded in more controversy when the referee awarded a goal kick after a Whitley shot took a deflection before going out of play.
Amid a chorus of complaints from Bay fans, the referee saw his assistant indicating a corner and changed his decision. This led to a furious response from the visiting players, some of whom seemed to feel he had been swayed by the crowd.
When calm had been restored, the corner was taken and when a shot came in on goal, Carmichael punched the ball clear but it fell perfectly for Chris McDonald who, seeing the keeper now off his line, crashed the ball into the net from 15 yards for his first goal in Bay colours, which gave Whitley the comfort of a two-goal cushion.
The game now looked to have been made safe but that all changed as barely two minutes later Hughes, who had made all the difference to the visitors in the final half hour, drove a great shot beyond the reach of Gladstone from 20 yards out on the left to reduce the arrears and set up an anxious final five minutes.
Jonny Godsmark replaced Chow for the closing stages and he went close to getting on the score sheet only for man of the match Carmichael to make yet another save.
It had been an entertaining game and overall a good Whitley performance, but they will need to become more clinical in front of goal.
Whitley Bay: Gladstone, McFarlane, McDonald, Laws, Ryan, Smith, Bird, Buzzeo (Hubbard 69), Watling, Chow (Godsmark 83), Kempster. Subs not used: Harris, Day, Brooking.