Whitley Bay suffered their first league defeat in nine games when they were beaten by high fliers celtic Nation, who returned to the top of the table with the victory.
The strong and well organised Carlisle side were worthy winners but it was a night on which little went Whitley’s way and the margin of victory flattered the big spending Cumbrians.
Whitley could certainly feel aggrieved with the way all three goals were conceded, two resulting from deflections that wrong footed keeper Mark Cook and the other from a controversial penalty.
On a fine spring evening, there was a good size crowd at Hillheads to watch two of the league’s in-form sides, with the visitors knowing that a victory was essential if they were to maintain their championship challenge.
The Cumbrians started positively, enjoying the majority of possession, but apart from a shot blazed high over the bar by former Newcastle and Carlisle United striker Mark Boyd, they had little to show for their early domination.
In their first attack of note, Whitley went close when Alex Kempster’s first time shot from a right wing cross flew just wide of the post.
The visitors took a 13th minute lead when a 25 yard shot by Willie Gibson directed towards the right corner of the Bay goal struck Leon Ryan and took a huge deflection, flying into the opposite corner of the net and giving keeper Mark Cook absolutely no chance of keeping it out.
Eight minutes later, Callum Anderson tried his luck after bursting through from midfield but his shot cleared the bar.
Whitley were struggling to retain possession as Nation denied them time to settle, as was the case when they were robbed of the ball from a short corner. Play quickly swung to the other end where Whitley suffered a second blow when the Cumbrians were awarded a penalty.
It seemed a very harsh decision by referee Elton Martin when from point blank range, Michael Rae’s shot struck the arm of Stephen Buzzeo with the Bay midfielder cautioned as a result.
Gibson sent Cook the wrong way from the spot to give Nation a two goal advantage with barely half an hour played.
In the last five minutes of the half Whitley fought back and visiting keeper Dan Lowson had to leap to his left to push a tremendous 25 yarder from Anderson round the post after the midfielder had been played in by Craig McFarlane.
A minute later, Kempster was denied by Grieve with the former Ashington defender happy to concede a corner.
Nine minutes into the second half, Rae fired a low shot across goal from out on the left and the ball took a deflection as it went behind for a corner but as had been the case in the first period, shots on target at either end were minimal, with the Cumbrians appearing happy to play an unattractive high ball game rather than keep it on the ground.
Just past the hour, a rare break for Whitley saw substitute Andy Robertson go clear on goal after a slip by Darren Lough but the young striker wasted his opportunity, rushing his shot and firing well off target.
Whitley seemed to be on the wrong end of some baffling decisions by the match officials with a rash of bookings only adding to the frustration as Mr Martin brandished a series of yellow cards. The assistant in front of the main stand incurred the wrath of Bay fans when he flagged Paul Chow offside as the Bay captain came from behind a defender to chase a through ball.
The longer the game went on, the less likely it looked that Whitley could force their way back into the contest and any lingering hopes were extinguished 13 minutes from time when a free kick by Gibson from the edge of the area took a deflection off a Bay defender and left Cook wrong footed for the second time in the game as the ball flew into the corner of the net.
In the last minute of the ninety, Whitley were awarded a penalty for handball and for the second successive game, Paul Chow, who had been effectively stifled throughout the game by the tall Nation defenders, was unsuccessful with his spot kick, the ball clipping the outside of the post as Whitley were denied even a late consolation goal after what had been a battling performance.
The game was not a great spectacle for the fans, with little goalmouth action at either end, but the Cumbrians will not be complaining after a strong, workmanlike display took them, temporarily at least, back to the top of the table ahead of championship favourites Spennymoor Town.