Ten man Whitley Bay were out-muscled and eventually well beaten by Bishop Auckland at Hillheads on Saturday.
It was Paddy Atkinson’s first home game as Bay manager and after a disappointing performance he made it clear that he will be looking to bring in some new players over the coming weeks.
Late withdrawals and injuries combined to leave the new boss with a significantly under strength squad, and with Craig Smith sent off inside the first 20 minutes, things were made even more difficult for a side low on confidence after recent defeats.
Smith’s inclusion in the side, his first appearance since suffering a dislocated hip at Seaham in November, was initially a major boost, his recovery having been much quicker than had been feared.
But indiscipline cut short his return to a defence that had been weakened by the absence of Brad Brooking, Chris Reid and Callum Anderson.
In the sixth minute, Alex Kempster was tripped as he attempted to break clear on the left wing, and he was subjected to similar treatment at regular intervals with his pace being one of the few bright aspects of Whitley’s display.
Bishops took the lead after seven minutes when a ball over the top caught out Michael Laws and Andrew Johnson outpaced the Bay skipper and raced clear to slot the ball past debutant keeper Sean Korsbo.
It was a blow to go behind so early but Whitley showed plenty of endeavour and just before the quarter hour Kempster set up an opportunity for an equaliser with a well placed cross from the left but Peter Watling’s header flew over the bar.
A crucial incident in the game occurred four minutes later with a flare-up in midfield, Smith raising an elbow at an opponent after what appeared to be a foul by the visitors going unpunished.
After consulting with one of his assistants, referee Terry Fletcher showed Smith a red card while Auckland captain John Butler, who was also embroiled in the incident, was fortunate to escape with a caution.
Despite being a man short, Whitley held their own for the remainder of the half, while in the space of four minutes the visitors had both David Mitchell and Stuart Thompson booked for clumsily bringing down Kempster as he threatened to break away down the wing.
Three more yellow cards were brandished before the interval as the physical nature of Bishop Auckland’s game took its toll, with Whitley also having Laws and Watling going into the book as their frustration showed.
Shortly before half-time Butler wasted a good chance to extend his side’s lead while Korsbo made a good save, pushing a shot from Kyle Davis over the bar.
In a tactical substitution, Michael McMullen was brought on in midfield after the interval at the expense of striker Watling.
Whitley almost made the perfect start to the second half and had the ball in the Bishops net after just 45 seconds, a tap in from Paul Chow after Robbie Bird’s shot from the right was pushed clear by Rhys Jobling. However, the celebrations were cut short by an offside flag, a contentious decision as Chow looked to be onside when Bird powered in his shot.
Having been denied an equaliser, Whitley were hit by a two-goal salvo in as many minutes which ended their hopes of getting back in the game. In the 48th minute substitute McMullen mistimed a challenge and brought down Davis to concede a penalty which Butler fired into the roof of the net, giving Korsbo no chance, then barely two minutes later, Johnson turned inside the box and fired home a low shot to give Auckland a virtually unassailable three-goal lead.
Just before the hour mark it was all over when Johnson broke clear on the right of a fragile Bay defence and as Korsbo advanced, he squared the ball for Butler to slot into an empty net.
At this stage more goals looked inevitable, but to their credit Whitley battled on and the nearest Bishops came to increasing their lead was when Thompson fired wide of the target from Butler’s cross.
The visitors made all three substitutions in the final third of the game and seemed content to retain their four-goal advantage, which Whitley rarely looked like threatening, despite the best efforts of Bird and Kempster who provided the only real sources of balls into the Auckland goalmouth.
Atkinson had little doubt that Smith’s red card - and he admitted he had no argument with the referee’s decision - changed the course of the game.
“As soon as we had a man sent off you could see their confidence drained,” he said.
“It’s difficult enough to win a game with 11 men when their confidence is low but we had to play with just ten men for over 70 minutes.
“The goals we conceded today were all down to individual errors and I made it quite clear to the lads after the game that we’ve got to cut out these errors.”
Whitley Bay: Korsbo, McFarlane, McDonald, Buzzeo, Laws, Smith, Bird, Prosser, Chow, Watling (McMullen 46), Kempster. Subs not used: H Laws, Gladstone, Redford.