Whitley Bay suffered their first league defeat of the season on Saturday and it could hardly have been more emphatic.
Bishop Auckland ran out 4-1 winners at Heritage Park.
Their severely depleted squad were still without manager Leon Ryan while Callum Anderson joined the ever increasing injury list after suffering ligament damage in the midweek FA Cup tie.
Winger Jonny Godsmark was given his full debut after coming off the bench against Bridlington, but assistant manager Steve Foster, who played the full game in midweek, returned to his more familiar position in the dugout.
Twice in the opening minutes there were signs of what was to come as Bishop Auckland, boasting an impressive 100 per cdnt league record, cut through a frail Bay defence. John Butler drove the ball into the side netting after just 60 seconds while in their next attack Kieran Megran ran through unchallenged before shooting wide.
Stuart Thompson then tested Mark Cook with a shot that the Bay keeper athletically pushed over the bar.
It was virtually all one way and Bishops deservedly took the lead after ten minutes when a long ball from midfield eluded Michael Laws and Butler seized his chance and fired a 15-yard shot past Cook.
Another defensive mistake two minutes later led to the second goal, Brooking’s header back to Cook falling short and being intercepted by Butler who lobbed the keeper from ten yards.
It might have got even worse for Whitley two minutes later when Auckland’s Danny Brunskill caught Cook with his foot as the keeper raced out to collect the ball. The Bay custodian needed treatment but was eventually able to continue.
Whitley’s first attack came on the quarter hour when Godsmark crossed to the back post but Chow’s header was comfortably saved.
Play quickly switched to the other end where Butler was giving Laws a torrid time and the Bay skipper was booked after the dangerous striker threatened to break clear.
A Robbie Bird corner saw Bishops captain Chris Lawson head behind as Whitley tried to get back into the game.
Godsmark then burst through on the right but just as he was racing clear into the 18-yard box, he was tugged to the ground by Jordan Lavery. The Auckland defender was shown a red card, but rather than a penalty, Whitley were awarded a free kick just inches outside the area.
After a lengthy delay due to the home side’s prolonged protests at the dismissal, Alex Kempster’s free kick was deflected beyond the far post.
The young midfielder then had a shot saved from Craig McFarlane’s corner and that was about as good as it got for Whitley in the opening half, despite another good cross from the right by Godsmark that just eluded Paul Chow.
Ten minutes before the break, any hopes of a Bay comeback were dashed when the third goal came after Whitley conceded a free kick 20 yards out on the right. The ball was played to the back post where it was headed unchallenged across the face of goal and Lawson got in ahead of Chow to head it home from close range.
Three minutes later Megran set up Butler for another chance but Cook did well to save the shot with his feet.
The pressure continued and almost inevitably Whitley conceded a fourth goal with five minutes of the half still remaining.
Finding space as he raced unchallenged through a hesitant defence, Thompson crossed from the right for Butler to complete his hat-trick with a close range finish.
The half-time whistle came as a relief to Whitley and their fans who had endured a quite dismal 45 minutes.
Esteban Lopez replaced Chris McDonald after the break as Whitley embarked on what was effectively a damage limitation exercise.
Having earlier conceded goals through defensive errors, Whitley quickly capitalised on a mix up at the back by Bishops when six minutes after the restart, Chow fired home from ten yards to reduce the arrears.
McFarlane repeatedly tried to set up attacking situations with strong running down the right but with little end result as Whitley failed to capitalise on their one man advantage.
They did at least stem the flow of attacks from the home side and they might have reduced the deficit further after 73 minutes but Scott Pocklington pushed Buzzeo’s 20 yarder over the bar.
Auckland sub Adam Sakr then brought a similar save from Cook before Marc Ellison’s fierce drive only just cleared the bar.
Bishops finished strongly, Butler failing to take advantage of a mistake by missing what looked like an easy chance before Megran saw a stoppage time free kick pushed over the bar by Cook.
This was a day when Whitley’s makeshift central defence struggled to cope with strong and powerful opponents and too many players performed below their best.
Whitley Bay: Cook, McFarlane, McDonald (Lopez 46), Buzzeo, Laws, Brooking, Godsmark, Ellison, Bird, Chow, Kempster (Day 86).