A late goal from Chris Reid, his third in as many games, saw Whitley Bay edge a hard fought League Cup tie against Bishop Auckland at Hillheads.
By a curious coincidence, the sides met at the same stage and on the same day last year, and on that occasion Bishops, on home soil, went through on penalties.
Once again there was little to choose between the sides but Whitley’s rekindled battling spirit eventually saw them through to the semi finals where they will visit Second Division Whitehaven.
The opening stages of the game belonged to Whitley, with the visitors quickly put under pressure.
Inside the fourth minute, Jarrett Rivers sent a dangerous looking ball into the goalmouth and Bishops defender Chris Lawson was content to play safe and put it behind for a corner.
A good build up almost brought the opening goal when Craig Hubbard played the ball through to Rivers on the right.
His cross into the box was flicked only inches wide of the near post by Paul Chow as Whitley continued to force the pace.
They were rewarded just a minute later when Chris McDonald crossed from way out on the left. The ball flew high across the 18 yard box and appeared to be going out of play but captain Chow leapt to head it back across goal beyond Pocklington and towards the far corner of the net.
It may have been going in but Thomas Bott, coming in at the back post was taking no chances and only a matter of inches from the line he poked it into the net for his first goal in Bay colours.
Only 13 minutes had been played and Whitley had their noses in front but Bishop Auckland gradually gained a foothold in the game and it was former Bay winger Dean Douglas who threatened nine minutes later but his shot was well off target and failed to trouble Michael Hammond, who was deputising for Mark Cook.
The County Durham side were stringing some good passes together and pushing Whitley back and with 28 minutes gone, they drew level when a long ball down the middle bounced high over Hammond and Johnny Butler raced round the keeper before slotting the ball into an unguarded net. The equaliser lifted Bishops and their travelling fans, and within two minutes, Bott had to conceded a corner when put under pressure from a cross by Dan Hawkins. Back at the other end, a free kick from McDonald whistled across the face of goal and out of play when only the faintest of touches would have put the ball in the net. The half time whistle arrived with the sides still deadlocked and everything to play for.
Seven minutes after the restart Paul Chow almost broke through on goal but was denied a shot on target by determined defending. There were gasps from the away fans when on the hour mark, Danny Brunskill drove the ball across goal from out on the left but it eluded everyone and went out of play.
One minute later, Callum Anderson burst into the Bishops penalty area but was brought down by a clumsy, high challenge by Lawson. Referee Paul Keogh had no hesitation in awarding a spot kick and Paul Chow easily beat Pocklington to restore Whitley’s lead with his 40th goal of the season.
It briefly looked as if the visitors were losing their discipline as they disputed decisions and incurred the wrath of the referee. However, it was Whitley who were punished five minutes later when Thomas Bott, already booked for kicking the ball away, was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for a bad challenge. It was Whitley’s first red card of the season and left them to play out the last quarter of the game with only ten men.
A weaving run almost took Hubbard through the Bishops defence after 71 minutes and then a minute later only a cynical foul by Daniel Hawkins stopped Craig McFarlane racing clear down the right wing, with the Bishops defender quite rightly being cautioned.
What was a very competitive game took another twist with eight minutes remaining when Chris Reid was penalised for handball and Butler just beat the dive of Hammond from the penalty spot with a shot just inside the left post.
All square with just eight minute to go it looked as if the game was going to extra time but Whitley had other ideas and battled forward in search of a winner. Pocklington rescued his side when he made a fine save to keep the ball out, pushing it behind for a corner. Three minutes were left when Alex Kempster played the flag kick into the goalmouth where Leon Ryan leapt to head the ball against the bar, but as it rebounded down, Chris Reid was on hand to lash it into the net to spark scenes of jubilation both on and off the pitch. Having taken the lead for the third time, Whitley were in no mood to relinquish their advantage again and they comfortably saw out four minutes of stoppage time to secure their place in the semi finals and a long trip west to Whitehaven.
This was a competitive and battling display against determined opponents and not a classic Bay performance but at this stage of a cup competition it was the result that mattered most. The celebrations that followed the final whistle showed just how important the victory was to the players, who are now just one step away from a cup final appearance at Newcastle’s St James Park next month. It was also deserved reward for the fans who have witnessed a remarkable upturn in fortunes at the club in the past six weeks.