Fitness a vital factor as Whitley Bay beat Musselburgh

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Persistent rain on Saturday afternoon failed to dampen the spirits in what was a competitive and entertaining pre-season friendly at Hillheads.

Scottish visitors Musselburgh enjoyed the better of the first half but Whitley Bay’s superior fitness proved decisive after the break when two spectacular goals lit up the dull afternoon.

Less than an hour before kick-off, Hillheads was bathed in bright sunshine and it appeared that the heat would be a problem for the players.

But conditions changed dramatically and the game got under way with leaden grey skies and steady rain making for a skiddy surface with a number of players struggling to stay on their feet in the wet conditions.

Musselburgh started impressively, passing the ball about accurately and with speed, and Whitley had limited possession in the opening stages.

Urged on by their enthusiastic fans, the Edinburgh side went close on at least two occasions before taking the lead after 26 minutes when Evan Ralton headed home a cross from the left at the back post.

Whitley began to force their way back into the game but a rash challenge near the halfway line by Marc Ellison earned him a yellow card from referee Lucy May.

Alex Kempster and Robbie Bird, who up to this stage had not been making a significant impression, switched wings and this change soon resulted in Bird making progress down the left before playing the ball into Callum Anderson who drilled a shot not far beyond the post.

Bird then got on the end of a right wing cross but the ball again flew wide of the target.

The home side came more into the game after the half-time break and they gained the upper hand in midfield, finding opportunities to test the Musselburgh defence.

Just before the hour mark they drew level thanks to a superb goal from Anderson, who fired in a tremendous 25-yard shot that arrowed into the top corner, leaving keeper Adams grasping at thin air.

It was only the second goal of Anderson’s career and came less than three months after he scored in the League Cup Final at St James’ Park at the end of last season.

Whitley were looking more of a threat as the half progressed and with 20 minutes to go, Bird was tripped as he broke through into the penalty area.

The assistant referee, who was close to the incident, immediately flagged for a penalty, which Peter Watling, who had earlier replaced Paul Chow, comfortably converted to give Whitley the lead.

Both sides made further substitutions in the later stages of the game and it was a Bay sub, Michael McMullen, who sealed victory in spectacular style just two minutes from time.

After Adams had raced out of his goal to make a clearance, the ball fell to McMullen near the right touch line almost level with the Bay dugout. Spotting the keeper out of position and leaving an unguarded goal, he immediately struck the ball from fully 45 yards with unerring accuracy into the empty net, to the delight of the Bay fans sheltering under the cover of the stands.

Whhitley Bay: Gladstone, McFarlane, McDonald, Buzzeo, Reid, Laws, Bird, Anderson, Ellison, Chow, Kempster. Second half subs: Watling, Brooking, Redford, McMullen, Smith.