Whitley Bay continued their unbeaten run under new manager Marc Nash with a hard fought victory over Penrith.
In doing so they jumped three places to fifth in the Northern League table.
The game was played at a rapid pace throughout between two evenly matched teams, despite their contrasting styles of play, and there was plenty to keep the fans entertained on a sunny but bitterly cold afternoon at Hillheads.
Both goals came at crucial stages of the game, deep into stoppage time at the end of each half, denying the visitors the opportunity to make an immediate response.
The sides both came into the game on a good run of form and the tall, physical Penrith side were soon putting Whitley under pressure with keeper Tom Flynn having to contend with the dazzle of a low sun in his eyes for the opening quarter of the game.
With good defending minimising the threat on goal, Whitley were able to create two opportunities of their own in the opening ten minutes. Alex Kempster’s cross just eluded Andy Robertson as the Bay striker raced in on goal and then Tom Potter’s free kick was poked just wide.
Penrith’s Bobby Atkinson struck a first time effort wide of goal, but despite good approach work by both teams, these were rare chances.
The Cumbrians stepped up the pressure after the midway stage of the half with top scorer Martyn Coleman wriggling past a defender before firing over, then from a long throw-in on the left, Atkinson struck a shot just wide of goal.
Whitley were defending stoutly and countering the visitors’ direct style of play with Ryan Keltie, Nick Allen and Ross Wilkinson looking solid in the centre of defence.
The home side were at this stage relying more on quick counter attacks, and in one instance Potter raced downfield but his shot failed to trouble keeper Jonnie Jamieson.
Robertson then saw a shot unluckily deflected wide off the back of Jordan Lawson with the Penrith defender relieved that the deflection did not send the ball into the net.
It appeared that the half would end goal less, but three minutes into added time, Nick Allen’s free kick into the Penrith goalmouth was only half cleared and when the ball fell for Robertson 12 yards out, he drilled it into the net through a crowded defence to give Whitley the lead just seconds before the half-time whistle.
The Cumbrians came out for the second half with all guns blazing and just 90 seconds after the resumption they were awarded a penalty for a push by Ross Wilkinson on Coleman near the right edge of the Bay 18-yard box. Coleman took the spot kick himself but Flynn dived the right way and pushed the ball round the post.
Remarkably Flynn also saved a penalty when the sides met at Frenchfield Park last season, and as was the case then, he was later voted man of the match.
Undeterred by the keeper’s heroics, the visitors kept up the pressure and should have equalised three minutes later, but Andrew Murray-Jones inexplicably put the ball wide from barely three yards out.
Flynn then produced a superb fingertip save to push another effort from the tall Cumbrian striker onto the bar and behind for a corner.
The visitors must have felt it was not going to be their day when another effort hit the frame of the goal, this time it was Atkinson’s header that crashed off the bar.
The game was really opening up with chances at both ends and in the 68th minute, Chris McDonald forced Jamieson into a fingertip save to push a powerful 20-yard effort over the bar.
Potter was proving a thorn in the side of the Cumbrians with his energy and pace down the wing, and after Robertson failed to capitalise on his low cross into the goalmouth, the teenage winger saw his own shot cleared off the line by Tyler Bowman.
Robertson was then denied by an offside flag as the game moved towards a nail biting finale with Penrith pushing hard for an equaliser.
Three minutes into stoppage time Penrith won a corner and they pushed every player forward, including keeper Jamieson in a last ditch effort to force an equaliser.
The ball into the box was cleared by the Bay defence, leaving fresh-legged substitute Kyle Patton to race almost the full length of the pitch and slot it into an empty net despite the valiant efforts of Lawson who sprinted back to try and keep it out.
There was barely time to restart the game before referee Jonathan Urwin blew the final whistle.
It was harsh on the Cumbrians, who had matched Bay for long periods of the game, but the spirit and determination that Marc Nash and his management team are generating in their young squad paid dividends as they extended their unbeaten run to five games, with every player contributing to the success of the side.
Whitley Bay: Flynn, Anderson, McDonald, Allen, Wilkinson, Keltie (Munro 90), Potter, Haley, Robertson, Kempster, Fryatt (K Patton 85).
Man of the match, sponsored by H2O Bathroom Design: Tom Flynn