NOT for the first time in recent games between the sides, West Auckland scored a late winner after Whitley Bay had been reduced to ten men in a game of controversial refereeing decisions.
With both sides in the top four of the table, this game was always going to be closely contested and on a fine and sunny afternoon, the home side started the stronger.
Callum Anderson and Craig McFarlane were being kept busy in the Bay defence but at this stage, Kyle Hayes was not seriously troubled.
However, with their potent strike pairing of Mattie Moffat and John Campbell, the home side were looking the likelier team to break the deadlock and they duly went ahead in the 23rd minute. Taking advantage of a misplaced pass in midfield, West attacked down the right wing and when Campbell crossed into the six yard box, Anderson slipped as he attempted to clear the ball and Moffat took full advantage with a clinical finish which gave Hayes no chance.
The West Auckland defence had not been tested in the first quarter of the game but Whitley gradually came more into the contest, with a cross from Fawcett being hooked clear before Lee Kerr saw his shot deflected behind for a corner. As Robinson raced through from midfield, a clumsy challenge by Adam Wilkinson earned the former Bedlington man a yellow card.
Whitley levelled the score after 32 minutes in slightly fortuitous circumstances when James Fairley’s 20 yard free kick took a big deflection and looped over Atkinson into the top corner of the net. The goal lifted Whitley and they now attacked with greater confidence while West looked more edgy. Five minutes after the equaliser, Brad Brooking surged up the right side of the slope and with defenders backing off, he drilled a powerful shot low past Atkinson to turn the game on its head and put Whitley in front. Finding more space as they attacked down both flanks, Whitley were looking the better side and might have extended their lead when Robinson was played clear but his final ball into the 18 yard box was too weak and posed no threat.
Whitley started the second half strongly and nearly got a third when the impressive Fairley took the ball past his man near the right touch line and cut in before putting his shot into the side netting. Fairley then created another opening down the right and when his cross was half cleared, Pounder’s first time effort was well saved low down by Atkinson.
After Hayes had made an excellent save to deny Banks, Whitley responded with Fawcett breaking clear on the left. His cross eluded the West defence leaving Paul Chow with only the keeper to beat but the ball bobbled on the surface at the vital moment and with everyone expecting to see the net bulge, Chow uncharacteristically completely missed the ball and the chance had gone.
Frustrated by their inability to break down the Bay side, gamesmanship increasingly became a feature of the West Auckland game, with a number of players, Garthwaite in particular, reacting dramatically to challenges while officials on the bench protested vociferously to the referee. Given the recent history between the sides, strong refereeing was called for but this was not evident as the official appeared intimidated and readily responded to the appeals from the home side. Dangerous tackles were not punished but Pounder and Kerr were cautioned in rapid succession. Hayes made an excellent point blank save from Hall’s header then Kerr then fired wide from 25 yards before Garthwaite drilled in a shot for west that Hayes pushed away.
More pressure by the home side saw them draw level 17 minutes from time when Campbell fired home from close range to set up a tense finale.
Three minutes later, a strong tackle by Kerr brought theatrical diving and rolling from Garthwaite and a volley of abuse from the home dugout, urging the referee to show a red card. The outcome seemed inevitable and Kerr was dismissed after being shown a second yellow card, while Craig McFarlane was also cautioned. This was only the second time this season that a Bay player had been sent off, the other being when Chris Reid also received two yellows – at home to West Auckland.
With the home side having come back strongly, the prospects of Whitley’s ten men holding out for another 15 minutes did not look good. However, with Kyle Hayes defying the home side, it began to look as if Whitley might hold out for a well deserved point but two minutes from time, the dangerous Campbell found space on the right and fired in a shot that left Hayes helpless.
In a last ditch attempt to rescue a point, Brian Smith was brought on and the move almost paid instant dividends when he used his height well inside the six yard box to get his head to a throw in from Brooking. He nodded it on to Chow who in turn headed the ball agonisingly wide of the far post.
West Auckland are a good side, especially when going forward, but the tactics that were so evident in the second half did nothing for their reputation. The game needed strong refereeing but as Ian Chandler commented, the referee seemed to be intimidated by the home side and lost control of the game.
WHITLEY BAY: Hayes, brooking, Novak, Anderson, Fairley (Watson 81 mins), McFarlane, Pounder (Smith 89 mins), Kerr, Fawcett, Chow, Robinson (Reid 76 mins).
Whitley are now into a hectic programme of three games a week, but Shildon’s drawn game in the FA Vase means that their league game at Hillheads on Saturday has had to be postponed, as the Railwaymen have their replay this weekend, leaving Whitley without a weekend game.
Whitley are in action tonight (Thursday) away to Sunderland RCA then on Monday they visit Durham City before making the much longer journey down to North Yorkshire on Wednesday evening to face Marske United.
Their next home game will now be on Tuesday, March 19 when they meet Bedlington Terriers in the semi-final of the Northumberland Senior Cup.