For the third year in a row, Whitley’s hopes of further FA Vase glory were dashed by Northern League rivals Dunston UTS.
And as on the previous two occasions, the visitors emerged as narrow but well deserved winners.
Prior to the game, much had been said about the frequency with which the two former winners have been drawn together, meaning that yet again one of the fancied sides would make an early exit.
Saturday’s games was the sixth time in 14 years that the clubs have been paired together and the latest result made it three wins each with the away side coming out on top on every occasion.
This was one of only two Vase games in the region that survived the wet weather, and while the pitch was playable, conditions were difficult on an uneven surface.
Whitley welcomed back goalkeeper Andy Jennison almost six weeks after fracturing a bone in his hand in the game against Shildon, but Chris Reid missed out after picking up a hamstring injury last week.
With a keen wind at their backs, Dunston immediately went on the attack and gave Whitley a fright when a shot from Malcolm Morien after just ten seconds flew a matter of inches over the bar.
It set the pattern for the first half with the visitors creating a series of chances but failing to capitalise.
With nine minutes on the clock, Jennison made an outstanding save, palming a header from Scott Martindale over the bar following a right wing corner.
Whitley were making little headway against the strong, tall Dunston defence, despite playing two strikers in Adam Shanks and Michael Bell.
Midway through the half Callum Anderson threaded an excellent ball through the Dunston midfield to Alex Kempster on the left wing but his cross into the goalmouth was quickly cleared.
Play then swung back to the other end where Steven Richardson drove a shot just over the bar.
Two minutes later Kempster, eight yards out and with his back to goal, attempted to hook the ball over Andrew Clark but had insufficient space to control the ball and it flew too high to trouble the keeper.
In the 34th minute a flurry of shots in the Bay goalmouth stretched the home defence and it took a superb diving save from Jennison to keep out an effort from Dunston captain Dale Burrell.
Whitley briefly threatened and after a free kick 30 yards from goal was only half cleared, Kempster’s ball into the box found Michael Laws whose header was saved by Clark.
Jennison again came to Whitley’s rescue four minutes before the interval with a great one handed save from a shot on the right, while two minutes later Kempster was again the provider for Whitley with a low ball across the face of goal but neither Shanks nor Bertram could make a clean connection.
Having failed to take advantage of the wind and with nothing to show for their superiority, despite winning no fewer than ten corners in the opening 45 minutes, Dunston must have been slightly concerned at the interval, but that all changed within 90 seconds of the restart.
Whitley attacked from the whistle and when Shanks crossed from the right, Kris Hughes looked to have a chance but he was denied time and a determined challenge saw the ball quickly cleared downfield. Richardson raced down the wing and crossed from the right to Morien who looked suspiciously offside but the assistant’s flag stayed down and the tall striker, once on the books of Whitley’s Reserves, drove the ball past Jennison from eight yards to put Dunston in front.
The goal gave the visitors a confidence boost and seven minutes later Morien again posed a danger but headed over when well placed.
Whitley tried to get back in the game but were lacking in creativity with the physical Dunston side never allowing them time to settle on the ball.
The visitors doubled their lead in bizarre circumstances after 68 minutes when Jennison raced out of his goal to clear a long ball out of defence but completely missed his kick as the ball bounced unevenly on the bobbly surface, leaving Morien with the simplest of tasks, running clear to knock the ball into an unguarded net.
It was especially cruel on Jennison, who had kept Whitley in the tie during the first half, and he was distraught at his error.
Liam Thear might have sealed victory five minutes later when he appeared to be clear on goal but was forced wide and failed to make the most of his chance.
The wind had died down by this stage and was no longer making a significant impact on the game, but 14 minutes from time Whitley grabbed a lifeline when Mark Bertram struck a tremendous 20-yard volley beyond Clark into the bottom corner of the net to raise the spirits of the majority of the 395-strong crowd.
The introduction of Robbie Williamson and Sam Norris failed to make an impact and there was to be no rousing finale as Dunston comfortably saw out the remaining minutes to record a hat-trick of Vase wins at Hillheads and repeat last season’s 2-1 victory.
Whitley Bay: Jennison, Gibson, McDonald, Anderson, Laws (Norris 82), Bramley, Hughes, Bertram, Shanks (Williamson 73), Bell, Kempster. Subs not used: Gladstone, Richardson, Day.