Battling Whitley Bay fail to stop Guisborough going top

Goalscorer Peter Watling on the attack for Whitley Bay against Guisborough Town.
Goalscorer Peter Watling on the attack for Whitley Bay against Guisborough Town.

Whitley Bay can count themselves unfortunate not to have taken a share of the spoils from their encounter with title-chasing Guisborough after Peter Watling had given them an early lead.

Unbeaten in their last 16 league games, the Yorkshiremen arrived at Hillheads in confident mood and as strong favourites.

But they found Whitley tough opponents and in the end they were relieved to come away with all three points.

With Dominic McGarr having signed for Conference side Tamworth, Scott Blandford took his place in the centre of the Bay defence while Jake Richardson made his full debut in midfield.

The home side began in lively fashion and with just five minutes played Peter Watling brought a fine one handed save from Guisborough keeper Nick Liversedge after being played through by Robbie Bird.

With Alex Kempster stretching the visiting defence with his pace down the wing, Whitley were well on top and deservedly took the lead after 14 minutes when Watling exchanged passes with Bird and raced clear before driving a powerful shot past Liversedge from 15 yards.

It was Watling’s 20th league goal of the season and his sixth in the last five games.

Bay were looking in control, but an unfortunate injury to Kempster changed the course of the game.

With just 20 minutes played the young midfielder took a knock in the face and had to leave the pitch with blood streaming from it.

It was first feared that he had suffered a broken nose but it was later confirmed that the injury was less serious and he should be available for Tuesday’s game against West Auckland.

The re-organisation caused by Kempster’s absence seemed to disrupt Whitley’s pattern of play and Guisborough began to show their attacking threat.

Just before the half hour, Luke Bythway went close but his shot was blocked by Tom Flynn, however, five minutes later the tall striker levelled the score when he rose at the back post to head across Flynn and into the far corner from a deep cross by Chay Liddle.

Whitley responded when substitute Sam Norris crossed from the right and Watling swivelled on the ball before firing in a shot that Liversedge gathered low down.

It was all square at the interval but just 35 seconds after the restart Guisborough were presented with what turned out to be the winning goal following a bad error by keeper Tom Flynn.

Town’s teenage midfielder Curtis Round tried his luck with a speculative but powerful 25-yard shot that appeared to require no more than a regulation save. Flynn grasped at the ball but failed to hold it and could only watch in horror as it flew past him into the net.

On 49 minutes, Whitley were grateful that Town’s Daniel Earl could only manage a weak header when presented with a clear chance in front of goal.

Three minutes later Flynn made amends for his earlier mistake with a fine block to deny a second and more clinical attempt from Earl as Guisborough briefly gained the upper hand searching for a third goal that would have made the game safe.

There was a warm welcome for Paul Robinson as he came off the bench after 56 minutes following a lengthy absence through injury.

He contributed to a strengthening of Whitley’s midfield as they forced their way back into the game with some neat one touch football.

The Guisborough defence were proving effective in cutting out the final ball so shots on target were limited.

When Whitley did break through it was the combination of Bird and Watling that threatened the visitors’ rearguard, with Bird twice going close.

At the other end the home defence looked well organised and confident, a big improvement on only a few weeks ago when goals were being leaked at an alarming rate.

While Guisborough seemed content to play out time and hold onto their narrow lead, Whitley battled to the final whistle and very nearly claimed a late equaliser when the hard-working Craig McFarlane, a popular choice for man of the match, saw a close range shot pushed just inches over the bar by Liversedge.

Deep into stoppage time, a rash challenge by Town substitute Nathan Mulligan sparked a fracas in a game which had otherwise been played in excellent spirit. The result was that Bay captain Michael Laws was cautioned, along with Bird and Mulligan.

A few seconds later, the final whistle heralded exuberant celebrations from the Yorkshire side and their fans as their hard fought victory saw them go top of the table and keep alive their chances of a first ever league title.

Whitley Bay: Flynn, McFarlane, McDonald, Richardson (McBride 72), Laws, Blandford, King (Robinson 56), Ferrell, Watling, Bird, Kempster (Norris 26). Subs not used: Cave, Stanger.