Whitley Bay staged a superb second half fight back to claim a thoroughly deserved point against second top Guisborough Town at Hillheads on Tuesday evening.
After three narrow defeats the draw gave Ian Chandler his first point since returning as Bay manager and he was delighted with the character his team showed in battling back against the championship chasing Priorymen.
Callum Munro and Aiden Haley both came into the starting eleven just hours after their transfers had been completed while Dan Gladstone took over in goal from the unavailable Andy Jennison.
The game got under way at a rapid pace with Guisborough looking the more dangerous side. They should have taken the lead in the 19th minute but Curtis Round failed to capitalise on an error by Michael Laws, firing wide of the near post after being played clear on goal with only Gladstone to beat.
Seven minutes later they made amends thanks to an excellent individual effort from Steven Snaith who set off on a mazy run, cutting in from the right before unleashing a 20 yard shot across Gladstone and into the far corner of the net.
The Yorkshiremen might have doubled their lead just four minutes later but Snaith could not reproduce his earlier skills and his shot was off target.
Whitley came more into the game as the interval approached and a low shot from Haley gave Guisborough keeper Nick Liversedge his first real test. Two corners in quick succession failed to pay dividends as, not for the first time in recent months, Whitley lacked a cutting edge against a strong and determined defence, so at the half time whistle the North Yorkshire side retained their one goal lead.
Ian Chandler made a bold triple substitution at the interval, replacing Flynn, Shanks and Kane with Youldon, McFarlane and Gibson. The manager also changed the formation and it completely transformed the game.
The pace and movement of Youldon and McFarlane unsettled the visitors as did the neat passing on a playing surface that had recovered remarkably well from the mudbath of seven days earlier. Under pressure from Town captain Leon Carling, Youldon did well to retain possession before swivelling and firing in a shot that flew straight at Liversedge. Two minutes later McFarlane also got a shot on target then a minute later his miss-hit shot from Kempster’s cross was comfortably saved.
The pressure was mounting and with 61 minutes on the clock, Kempster produced a moment of sheer magic, weaving his way past several defenders and holding off sturdy challenges as he cut in from the left edge of the penalty area and from a very tight angle he cleverly slotted the ball between Liversedge and the near post to level the score.
Two minutes later Town were penalised for a foul just out the 18 yard box and Kempster’s free kick whistled inches past the near post. Chris McDonald then joined the attack and had a shot saved as Whitley stepped up the pressure. Confidence and belief was growing among players and fans alike and when Chandler’s men forced two corners in rapid succession, Guisborough were relieved to see Jake Fowler’s 25 yard shot clear the bar.
Munro, who had played little football in recent months but had given his all in Whitley’s defence, went down with cramp late on but after treatment was able to continue.
Chandler’s revitalised team were battling for every ball, never shirking a challenge and it was unsettling the Yorkshiremen who were struggling to retain possession and little was being seen of Gary Wood, who had been influential in Town’s midfield during the first half.
Both sides were looking to snatch a winner but in the closing stages it was Whitley who were posing the greater threat while the title challengers seemed increasingly happy to settle for a point.
At the final whistle the Bay fans gave their team a well deserved rousing reception after what had been the most stirring performance since the FA Cup run in the early autumn.
Whitley Bay: Gladstone, Munro, McDonald, Anderson, Laws, Flynn (Gibson 45), Haley, Fowler, Shanks (Youldon 45), Kane (McFarlane 45), Kempster. Subs not used: Day, M Williamson.