WHITLEY Bay rewarded the fans who braved the bitterly cold conditions at Durham on Monday evening with what turned out to be a surprisingly comfortable victory.
New Ferens Park has been a happy hunting ground for them over the years – it was the venue where they won the league title six years ago and in 2002 they celebrated reaching the first of their four FA Vase finals.
City’s form has improved considerably since former Bay coach Adam Furness took over as manager in the autumn, and they went into this game following an impressive victory over West Auckland on Saturday.
It may be nearly mid-March but it felt and looked like mid-winter, with the temperature hovering around freezing and the wind chill making it feel significantly sub zero.
There was a light covering of snow on the all weather surface and a biting cold wind, but Whitley soon came to terms with the unfamiliar conditions and took the lead with barely five minutes on the clock.
In what was their first attack, LeePaul Scroggins played the ball across the edge of the Durham area where the unmarked David Pounder slotted it beyond the reach of keeper Gareth Young.
Durham battled back and for the rest of the first half had the majority of possession without seriously threatening the Bay goal.
With Brad Brooking and James Novak back in the side, Whitley’s defence looked assured, with City’s hat-trick hero from the weekend Conor Winter unable to make a real impression.
Five minutes before the interval, Ian Watson brought a save from Young, but that was about all the goalmouth action that Whitley produced.
A lively opening to the second half saw Whitley extend their lead in the 53rd minute when Paul Robinson cut through the home defence with an inch perfect pass to Paul Chow who raced clear and slid the ball beyond the advancing keeper.
Whitley were giving the home side a lesson in taking their chances and made the game safe nine minutes later when Chow scored a superb goal, curling a tremendous right footed shot just inside the far post from 20 yards out on the left edge of the penalty area.
He has scored many memorable goals in his remarkable tally which has now reached 197, but this one must rank among his best.
City spirits dropped and Whitley were well in control of the game.
Brooking had to be helped from the pitch with 13 minutes left but Whitley still looked confident at the back and posed an increasing threat in attack.
Chow almost completed his hat-trick when Chris Fawcett crossed a perfect ball from the left but his header went straight into the grateful arms of Young.
Chow then broke the through heart of the City defence but tried unsuccessfully to go all the way himself when Craig McFarlane was better placed to get a shot on target.
Two minutes from time Whitley got their fourth when Fawcett played the ball through to substitute Kyle Downey and the former England schoolboy international, making his first appearance of the season for the senior side, chipped the ball perfectly over the keeper to round off a comprehensive victory.
Referee Matthew Dicicco deserved credit for allowing the game the go ahead despite the covering of snow, and also for his handling of the contest.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Brooking (C Smith 77 mins), Novak, McFarlane, Reid, Watson (Downey 60 mins), Fawcett, Scroggins, Pounder, Chow, Robinson. Subs not used: B Smith, Rowe.
On Saturday Whitley make the short journey to Coach Lane, Benton, to take on Team Northumbria.
This will be Whitley’s first visit to this venue, having recorded an excellent 6-0 win over last season’s second division champions when the sides met at Hillheads in October
Next Tuesday sees Bay hoping to reach their first cup final of the season when they take on Bedlington Terriers at Hillheads in the semi-final of the Northumberland Senior Cup.
The prize is a place in the final at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park against North Shields or Ashington, who play their semi-final the following evening.
Bedlington are going through a difficult period but beat Whitley in the FA Cup at Hillheads back in August, before Whitley turned the tables a week later in the league fixture.
To reach this stage they caused a shock by beating holders Newcastle United Reserves, while Whitley also produced an upset, beating Blyth Spartans in a replay.
The game kicks-off at 7.30pm.