WHITLEY Bay treated their fans to some of their best football of the season in their final home game while at the same time maintained their remarkable record over Bishop Auckland.
In the six years since Bishops returned to the Northern League, they have yet to take a single point from their games against the North Tyneside outfit.
Saturday’s match had looked like being their best chance so far as they are a much improved side this year and in the top eight of the league.
But after a fairly even first half, they were swept away by a Bay side showing the confidence and flowing football that has been missing since their FA Vase exit in February.
The pitch had stood up well to the torrential rain of recent days but a heavy shower before kick-off made the surface slippery.
The conditions contributed to Whitley’s first goal inside the opening two minutes.
Craig McFarlane took possession near the halfway line, skipped past an opponent and raced away down the left before sending a low cross into the goalmouth.
The ball skidded across the wet surface beyond the Bishops’ defence and LeePaul Scroggins arrived just ahead of Paul Chow to gert the finishing touch from barely five yards out.
Keeper Peter Jeffries was furious with his team’s defending but the goal was just the start Whitley needed.
Jeffries saved his side from going two down just seven minutes later when Paul Robinson’s ball put Chow clear but the keeper blocked the shot with his feet.
Bishops gradually came more into the game and Whitley had to clear their lines on several occasions as Andrew Johnson, the league’s leading scorer, posed a threat for the visitors, along with fellow striker Arran Wearmouth.
Callum Anderson made the first of several surging runs from midfield and with players backing off he forced a corner from which Scroggins drilled a 20-yard shot straight at Jeffries.
A quickly taken free kick by David Pounder caught out the Bishops defence and Chris Reid, in space on the left, saw his effort crash off the bar, much to the relief of Jeffries.
Five minutes before half-time, Gary Ormston was booked for a challenge on Wearmouth and from the resulting free kick, Adam McLane fired the ball home from close range only for his celebrations to be cut short as it was offside.
The visitors maintained the pressure and Scroggins was next in the referee’s book following a tackle on Strong.
The resulting free kick, in a central position about 25 yards out, was driven powerfully towards goal by Johnson but Pounder was penalised when the ball struck his raised arm and a penalty was awarded.
Johnson beat Kyle Hayes from the spot to level the score.
It was no more than Bishop Auckland deserved and at half-time there was little to choose between the sides.
The second half was a different story as Whitley proceeded to dominate, and but for some excellent saves by Jeffries, the margin of victory could have been much greater.
With just four minutes played, Scroggins burst through but Jeffries pushed his shot wide.
Moments later, Anderson’s cross to the back post was only just off target.
Robinson then tested Jeffries with a powerful shot as he cut in from the right, bringing a fine save from the overworked keeper.
Bishops players were becoming increasingly frustrated and Salvin became the second to be cautioned for dissent when a decision did not go his team’s way.
Just past the hour, Chris Fawcett outpaced the defence but his cross was headed clear by defender Adam Robinson.
Whitley then made a double substitution with Gareth Williams and Darren Timmons replacing Scroggins and Ormston.
Whitley regained the lead in the 69th minute when Robinson’s left wing corner was headed home by Timmons at the back post.
Whitley were well on top and playing with ever increasing confidence.
Chris Fawcett went on a mazy run, cutting in from right along the byline past several defenders, but when he cut the ball back into the goalmouth it was scrambled clear.
At the other end, Kyle Hayes was injured when he failed to hold a low cross from the left.
He grabbed the ball at the second attempt but as Johnson also went for the loose ball he caught Hayes on the jaw.
The Bay keeper needed lengthy treatment and after a near ten minute delay he was helped to his feet, still groggy.
He was unable to continue and had to be helped off the field to generous applause from all sides of the ground.
With no recognised keeper on the bench, Chow took over in goal, a role not unfamiliar to the Bay top scorer, who coincidentally took the gloves against the same opponents in a FA Cup tie last season when Hayes was sent off for handling outside the penalty area.
In that game Chow kept a clean sheet and he did the same this time.
To be fair, Bishops failed to put him under much real pressure, but when Johnson pounced on a cross from sub Daniel Hawkins, Chow did well to block the shot.
Rather than simply protect their lead, Whitley continued on the offensive and from Damon Robson’s right wing corner, Fawcett’s header was blocked at point blank range by Jeffries, who also kept out Fawcett’s second attempt from the rebound.
A delightful flick by Robinson into the path of Reid nearly brought the third goal, but the inevitable was not long in coming as the impressive Fawcett sped past a tiring defence and drove the ball low across the face of goal.
Kerr cleverly side-stepped the ball, leaving McFarlane totally unmarked to smash the ball home and put the result beyond doubt.
That was in the last minute of normal time but the injury to Hayes resulted in almost 11 added minutes, during which time Robinson had a header blocked and Kerr shot just past the post as Whitley emphasised their superiority and strengthened their chances of finishing the season in fifth place.
In marked contrast to some of their recent subdued performances, this was a game that put the smile back on the faces of players and fans alike.
Every Bay player made a significant contribution in a real team performance with particularly impressive displays from Robinson, Fawcett and Anderson, whose attacking runs showed a new dimension to his game.
The rousing ovation given by the 343 fans at the final whistle was well deserved.
Whitley Bay: Hayes (Robson 78 mins), McFarlane, Pounder, Reid, Scroggins (Williams 62 mins), Anderson, Fawcett, Ormston (Timmons 62 mins), Kerr, Chow, Robinson. Subs not used: Zanelli, Rowe.