Atkinson off the mark as Whitley Bay beat Durham City in seven-goal thriller

Durham keeper Jordan Harkess looks on as Peter Watling's shot crosses the line for Whitley Bay's first goal in their 4-3 win.
Durham keeper Jordan Harkess looks on as Peter Watling's shot crosses the line for Whitley Bay's first goal in their 4-3 win.

A seven-goal thriller at New Ferens Park brought Whitley Bay their first win under manager Paddy Atkinson on Saturday.

It also made it three defeats in three games for Durham City manager Ian Chandler against his former club.

It was a much needed and well deserved victory for the visitors, who led 4-1 early in the second half before withstanding a late fight back.

There were four changes to the side that lost to Newton Aycliffe the previous week, with Paul King making his first start on the right side of midfield while fellow midfielder Scott Blandford, who as a teenager had a short spell at Hillheads during the Andy Gowens era, made his return debut just two days after signing from Bedlington.

With Sean McCafferty unavailable, Dan Gladstone was back in goal and there was also a starting place for defender Chris McDonald. However, recent signing Dominic McGarr missed the game through injury.

There was little to choose between the sides in the opening exchanges but after 16 minutes City took the lead when Callum Hope, who spent a short time at Hillheads last season, fired an angled shot across Gladstone and into the far corner.

Fears that Bay heads might drop were quickly dispelled as they forced City back and after a period of pressure drew level thanks to an excellent team goal which initially involved Robbie Bird and McDonald, who played the ball wide to Alex Kempster and he crossed into the area where King nodded the ball down and Peter Watling, despite the close attendance of defender Arjun Purewal, turned and from 14 yards beat Jordan Harkess in the City goal.

With their confidence visibly boosted, Whitley went straight back on the attack and two minutes later might have taken the lead but Watling’s header from Bird’s right wing cross was deflected behind for a corner.

But they were not to be denied for long and on the half hour Bird broke forward from midfield before finding King wide on the right. His pin-point cross was met by Watling whose shot from barely six yards crashed off the underside of the bar but with the City defence failing to react quickly enough, Kempster pounced and lashed the ball home for his third goal of the season.

The celebrations among the Bay fans had barely died down when Watling had the ball in the Durham net once again, but his bullet header was ruled offside.

It was virtually all Whitley at this stage as they played the ball around accurately on the artificial playing surface, with Watling proving a real handful for the home defence.

With 36 minutes on the clock he saw a powerful drive fly just over the bar, but two minutes before the break he capitalised on a goalkeeping error to put Whitley 3-1 ahead.

Blandford, who was looking impressive in midfield, tried his luck with a stinging 20-yard shot that proved too much for Harkess to hold and when the ball ran loose, Watling did well to slot it into the net from a tight angle.

After enjoying the luxury of a two-goal interval lead, Whitley began the second period as they ended the first, immediately forcing City onto the back foot.

Less than four minutes had elapsed when Bird crossed from the wing but Watling’s shot was blocked.

Six minutes later, Whitley punished the hosts for poor defending after a long throw on the left was not cut out and Blandford took full advantage to head home from six yards and seemingly put the game beyond an out of sorts home side.

But Whitley briefly sat back and allowed Chandler’s men to get back in the game just four minutes later when Ryan Noble was given space inside the six-yard box to flick the ball home from a right wing corner.

Whitley’s response was positive and good interplay between Watling and Kempster nearly set up a fifth Bay goal, but this time Harkess made the save.

Gladstone was called into action after 63 minutes, saving well from Hope, but the Whitley defence were looking more confident than in recent weeks and the majority of the action was in the Durham half.

With 20 minutes remaining, a good effort from Watling was pushed wide by Harkess, but to the surprise of almost everyone a goal kick was awarded.

Less than 60 seconds later an audacious 20-yard effort from Michael Williamson clipped the top of the bar. But two minutes later City went close only for Gladstone to push the ball round the post.

For the first time in the game, Durham began to gain the upper hand and in the final 15 minutes Whitley were forced back on the defensive, but with skipper Michael Laws giving little away, the hosts created few clear cut chances and the two-goal lead was rarely threatened.

That was until the 89th minute when Gladstone made his only real mistake of the game, failing to hold onto a close range header from substitute Kyle Fryatt and the ball squirmed into the net.

Whitley saw out more than five minutes of added time with relative comfort and after the final whistle left the field to a rousing ovation from their fans.

Whitley Bay: Gladstone, McFarlane, McDonald, Blandford, M Laws, Morse, King (Cave 63), Williamson, Watling, Bird (H Laws 89), Kempster.

Subs not used: Anderson, Prosser, Stanger.