Whitley Bay put five past basement side Billingham Town

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In their final game before Christmas, Whitley Bay scored five goals against bottom of the table Billingham Town.

But the Teessiders put up a brave fight and it was only in the latter stages of the contest that their resistance was broken.

With Tom Kindley still recovering from injury, Whitley included academy product Daniel Gladstone in goal, but he had little opportunity to show his ability with the visitors rarely troubling the Bay defence.

Also in the side was Tomi Ameobi, just back in the country following his summer season in Finland.

It was soon evident that conditions were far from ideal, with heavy rain earlier in the day leaving the pitch soft and wet.

But with the struggling visitors starting hesitantly, Whitley were soon on the attack and with nine minutes played they took the lead.

As befits the season of goodwill, the opening goal was a real gift, with the Billingham defence failing to cut out a ball played down the middle, leaving Phil Airey with a clear run on goal. Advancing the to edge of the penalty area he drove a low shot past keeper Antony Lowerson to record his fifth goal in nine appearances for the club.

If Bay fans thought this was the beginning of a goal feast they were to be disappointed as Whitley rather lost their way, with a degree of complacency in their play as they conceded possession and allowed their opponents time on the ball.

They still had opportunities and were denied a second goal after 17 minutes when Chris Reid’s header was ruled out by an offside flag.

A minute later, though, they were shocked when Billingham levelled thanks to a fine shot from 15 yards by Dale Fawcett. His strike giving Gladstone no chance as it flew into the corner of the net.

The equaliser lifted the visitors and with Whitley making little impact in the slippery conditions, fans were beginning to get frustrated as play became increasingly scrappy.

With 37 minutes gone, Ameobi’s shot from Airey’s pass took a deflection and hit the outside of the post with Lowerson struggling to make his ground.

Three minutes later Whitley were back in front when Craig McFarlane received the ball from Airey wide on the right then cut in and fired a low shot into the far corner of the net.

A minute later, a scramble inside the six-yard box nearly brought a third goal but Airey’s effort went wide.

The half-time whistle came with Whitley one goal up but without having asserted their superiority.

The second half began in a similar vein and although Billingham rarely threatened, they were defending doggedly and frustrating Whitley’s attacking moves, allowing few shots on goal.

Two substitutions around the hour mark signalled an improvement in Bay fortunes, with Chris Fawcett and Alex Kempster providing fresh legs and extra pace.

Kempster soon made his presence felt when he received the ball from McFarlane out on the wing and his cross saw Paul Chow fire into the side netting.

James Novak’s cross from the left then gave Airey a chance which he headed just off target.

Whitley were stepping up the pressure and a great cross from Chris Moore almost produced a spectacular goal, with Airey’s volley crashing off the bar with the keeper beaten.

Two corners in quick succession failed to reap rewards, but then with 13 minutes left, Kempster picked up possession in midfield and went past two defenders before unleashing a stunning shot that bulged the net before Lowerson could move.

With a two-goal cushion, Whitley were now fully in command and Billingham began to wilt.

A fourth goal always looked likely and it came with six minutes left when Jarrett Rivers, who had just come off the bench, poked a close range shot beyond Lowerson into the net.

The ball took a slight deflection off Chow’s heel but the Bay captain made no attempt to claim the goal for himself.

He was rewarded just a minute from time when he headed home Moore’s cross from the right for Whitley’s fifth and his 30th goal of the season, a superb tally with almost half the season still to come.

The victory consolidates Whitley’s 11th place in the table, a huge improvement after their poor start to the season which saw them lose their first four league games.

With several of the recent crop of injured players now returning to the side, Whitley can approach the new year and a series of tough fixtures with greater optimism.

Whitley Bay: Gladstone, Brooking, Novak, Reid, Smith (Kempster 63), Moore, Anderson, Ameobi (Fawcett 60), Airey (Rivers 75), Chow, McFarlane. Subs not used: Buzzeo, McMullen.