Whitley Bay emerged comfortable winners from their local derby against struggling Team Northumbria on Saturday.
And the visitors slipped closer to the relegation trap door following the 3-1 defeat.
An early goal from Craig Hubbard set Whitley on their way and while the game did not reach the heights of Wednesday evening’s superb 5-0 victory at Dunston, there was never any real doubt that they would extend their unbeaten league run to seven games.
That upturn in form began with the appointment of Leon Ryan as temporary manager back in February, and just before kick-off it was announced to the crowd that his appointment, along with assistant Steve Foster and fitness coach David Berry, had been made permanent.
The visitors included two former Bay players, Chris Moore and Paul Antony, in their line-up, but neither made a significant contribution to the game.
Unsurprisingly, Whitley kept faith in the 11 who started the game at Dunston, meaning that Callum Anderson, Thomas Bott and Paul Chow all had to be content with places on a strong substitutes’ bench, while the manager did not even figure in the squad.
It represented quite a change from some recent occasions when Whitley have struggled to name a full complement of substitutes.
Bay quickly imposed themselves on the game and with nine minutes played, Chris McDonald was brought down as he went past a defender wide on the left, about 25 yards from goal. Craig McFarlane curled the resultant free kick into the goalmouth where the ball was flicked on by Alex Kempster and Craig Hubbard had the simplest of tasks of heading home at the back post to give Whitley the perfect start.
Two minutes later, McDonald, still feeling the effects of the challenge, was replaced by Anderson.
The visitors, who had made little impression up to this point, briefly threatened when Peter Watling burst forward from near the halfway line but the move broke down on the edge of the Bay penalty area.
Whitley then pushed forward again and Hubbard’s precision pass set Michael McMullen away out on the right wing, but his cross into the goalmouth was held by keeper Andrew Jennison.
A spell of Bay pressure shortly before the half hour firstly saw Stephenson denied then Chris Reid’s stinging drive from a Jarrett Rivers pass was pushed over the bar.
Another ball forward found Stephenson who raced in on goal past Jennison, but he was denied by a last ditch challenge from Dan Riley.
A second goal finally came seven minutes before half-time thanks to Reid’s glancing header from Kempster’s right wing corner, the defender’s third goal in the last five games.
It was no more than Whitley deserved having dominated much of the opening period.
Team North’s first serious attempt on target came in the 40th minute when James Aird fired in a shot that Mark Cook pushed over the bar.
It was a brief foray downfield and moments later, Hubbard was unlucky not to add a third goal when he cut in and his powerful shot was pushed onto the top of the bar by Jennison.
Brad Brooking then saw his shot saved as Whitley ended the half strongly.
Seven minutes after the resumption, Northumbria’s top scorer Watling got away down the left but wasted his opportunity, blazing the ball high over the bar.
The tempo of the game had dropped since the interval but soon after the hour mark, Rivers sent a chip shot not far wide of goal, and then Brooking rounded off a neat move with a strong shot that Jennison was glad to hold.
Once again the bar denied Whitley when Stephenson’s lob over the keeper seemed destined for the net but was fractionally too high.
Midway through the half, Chow came off the bench to face opponents against whom he had already scored five times this season, and they would have been right to fear his arrival on the scene as within four minutes he was on the score sheet once again.
Collecting the ball just inside the opposition half, he took it forward and from just outside the 18-yard box struck a low shot perfectly placed just inside the near post beyond the despairing dive of Jennison.
The game appeared to be won but two minutes later the visitors broke away and Bay keeper Cook was penalised when he brought down an opponent inside the penalty area.
After being cautioned for the offence, he made a brave attempt to keep out the spot kick but Watling’s effort was too powerful and brought the deficit back to two goals.
Rather than being content to hold on to their lead, Whitley spent the remaining 15 minutes searching for more goals with Chow going close on at least three occasions.
Only an excellent save by the over-worked Jennison denied him after 75 minutes; the keeper pushing the ball wide.
Thomas Bott, a second half substitute for McMullen, also had two good attempts on goal, notably a stunning 25-yard effort that Jennison bravely finger tipped over the bar.
Six minutes from time Chow very nearly got his second when a shot from 15 yards out on the left squirmed under Jennison and the keeper only just stopped the ball from crossing the line.
Then with time running out, Chow was thwarted yet again when a close range effort from a Rivers corner was blocked.
With only three games left, all against sides in the top six, Team Northumbria, who are two points adrift of safety, face a difficult task if they are to avoid relegation after just two seasons in the top flight.
For Whitley, however, the prospects look much rosier with a top ten finish now within their grasp.
Whitley Bay: Cook, Brooking, McDonald (Anderson 11), McFarlane, Reid, Smith, McMullen (Bott 45), Hubbard, Stephenson (Chow 67), Rivers, Kempster. Subs not used: Burns, Buzzeo.