WHITLEY Bay FC completed their STL Northern League programme with a comfortable victory at Newcastle Benfield on Bank Holiday Monday morning.
With a highly improbable 15-goal winning margin required for Whitley to overtake Consett and capture second place, Ian Chandler opted to rest several key players with the FA Vase final at Wembley just six days away.
The gruelling end of season fixtures have taken a heavier toll on Benfield, and injuries meant that the side once challenging for the title themselves were without a recognised goalkeeper as well as a number of other players.
On a sunny but breezy morning, Whitley had the better of the first half and might have gone ahead after nine minutes, but Lee Mason was unlucky when his shot hit the inside of the post and rebounded away from goal.
There were few clear cut chances before the opening goal, which came after 31 minutes when Glen Taylor headed the ball down for Gary Ormston to fire a low shot past stand-in keeper Scott Fenwick.
Terry Burke was having a quiet morning but was called into action four minutes before the interval to push a shot from Johnny Mann wide at full stretch.
Adam Scope latched on to the loose ball and his angled shot was cleared off the line by David Coulson.
After the interval, Benfield’s Carl Paterson was in the right place to head a goal bound effort off the line before Whitley made a triple substitution, Paul Chow, Brian Smith and Callum Anderson replacing Paul Robinson, David Pounder and Gary Ormston.
The home side briefly pushed forward with Stuart Wright getting in a shot that was off target, while at the other end Darren Reay also tried his luck from just outside the penalty area.
Whitley made the game safe with 78 minutes on the clock thanks to a rare goalkeeping mistake by Fenwick, who failed to hold the ball from Reay’s free kick and Coulson bundled the ball over the line from close range.
Chow almost added a third but Fenwick somehow blocked his shot after the ball bounced around the six-yard box.
With eight minutes left, Smith headed home off the post from Taylor’s cross to complete the scoring.
Three minutes from time, a great diving save from Burke denied Scope a consolation for the home side and ensured that Whitley ended the season with the highest number of clean sheets in the league – 24 in total, one more than champions Spennymoor.
Apart from the result, which ensured Whitley their fourth consecutive third place finish in the league, positives to emerge from the game included another 30 minutes match practice from Chow, a similar amount after injury for Anderson, encouraging performances from Taylor and from Tomi Ameobi, who was playing in a more defensive role than in the past.
Whitley Bay: Burke, Reay, Pounder (Smith 60 mins), Rowe, Coulson, Ormston (Anderson 60 mins), Fawcett, Mason, Taylor, Robinson (Chow 60 mins). Substitutes not used: Hayes, Robson.