Whitley Bay celebrated the tenth anniversary of Ian Chandler’s appointment as manager with a narrow and hard earned victory over local rivals Ashington at Hillheads.
It was ten years to the day since Chandler, scorer of more than 150 goals in a long and illustrious career at Hillheads, returned to the club as player manager.
Since then Whitley have enjoyed the most successful period in their history and Chandler has become a Whitley Bay legend.
With the Colliers in excellent form and enjoying their most successful season for years, this local derby was always going to be a tough game and Whitley’s prospects were dealt a major blow with the news that Tom Kindley, Brad Brooking and Callum Anderson were all missing due to a combination of injuries and illness, giving Chandler an unwanted selection headache.
Ashington meanwhile had striker Marc Walton absent through injury and were wearing an unfamiliar third choice all red strip.
With the game barely five minutes old, the Colliers felt that Whitley should have been seeing red in more ways than one after former Bay striker Glen Taylor took a tumble inside the penalty area after a challenge from Tomi Ameobi.
The visitors felt aggrieved that play was allowed to continue, believing that a penalty should have been awarded and Ameobi sent off.
Two minutes later, Chris Moore forced a save from Ashington keeper Karl Dryden while shortly afterwards Andrew Johnson drilled a free kick over the Whitley bar.
Those incidents apart, there was a lack of goalmouth action for much of the opening 45 minutes with the visitors having more of the possession.
However, on the half hour, a good move involving Jarrett Rivers and Moore gave Paul Chow a chance from close range but Dryden responded quickly and smothered his attempt on goal.
Leon Ryan was off target with a header from the corner that followed and play once again reverted to midfield.
Ashington’s James Taylor fired wide of goal before both Chris Reid and James Novak were cautioned for questionable offences.
Having had little to do for much of the half, young Bay keeper Richard Harley had to be alert to dive on a ball from Glen Taylor in his six-yard box.
The Colliers’ tall striker then headed wide from a left wing cross and it was looking as if the half would end goal less.
But just one minute before the interval came what proved to be the determining moment of the game.
Michael McMullen received the ball on the left, midway inside the Ashington half, and finding space down the wing he capitalised on a brief lapse in concentration by the visitors before crossing into the goalmouth where Moore turned inside a defender before beating Dryden with a low shot from six yards.
The visitors, who up to this stage had defended resolutely, responded almost immediately and a long ball forward reached David Carson who tried to poke it towards goal but made insufficient contact and the ball was easily cleared.
The second half began with the Colliers going close when Martin Brittain drove a free kick just wide of the far post when the slightest of touches could have put the ball in the net.
The game started to open up more as Ashington had to push forward in search of an equaliser and on the hour, both sides made changes, with Whitley bringing on Chris Fawcett and Phil Airey while Ashington introduced Sam Norris.
Although there was more attacking intent, neither keeper was unduly troubled as defences generally held firm.
Some visiting fans momentarily thought their side had equalised when Ameobi’s sliced clearance from a Brittain cross flew just past the post but it was a rare error by the disciplined Bay defence.
A brief moment of danger for the Colliers came when Chow charged down a clearance by Dryden but the keeper was relieved to see the ball rebound into his grasp.
With Reid and Ryan giving little space for Glen Taylor, the visitors were increasingly forced to attempt long range efforts which, as in the case of Carson in the 71st minute, were off target.
As they sent more men forward, Ashington took the inevitable risk of being caught out by a Whitley counter attack and a great through ball from Alex Kempster with 15 minutes left gave Airey a glorious chance to put the game beyond the visitors but his shot flew well over the bar with only Dryden to beat.
Throughout the team, Whitley were battling for every ball and repeatedly denying the Colliers time or space, and their frustration began to show late on when influential captain Johnson was cautioned and risked further punishment with his reaction to the decision.
There were a few anxious moments for Whitley as Ashington forced two late corners, but again Ryan, Reid and Ameobi effectively dealt with every high ball and a timely tackle by Ameobi denying Glen Taylor a shot on target.
In the end, Moore’s goal was all that separated the sides after a closely contested encounter and the three points saw Whitley move up to ninth place, their highest position of the season to date.
Reflecting on the match, a happy Ian Chandler paid tribute to the entire team, and in particular the hard work of the young central midfield pair Rivers and Kempster, the latter arguably man of the match, while he was also full of praise for Reid, Ryan and Ameobi for nullifying the aerial threat of Glen Taylor with disciplined performances.
Ahead of the game few Bay fans would have predicted a victory.
Chandler said: “What was particularly satisfying was getting the win with a patched up side.
“We’ve now shown we can match some top sides, beating Spennymoor, Ashington and Runcorn.
“We just need to be more consistent.
“We’re moving up the table and the target now is to get into the top six.”
Whitley Bay: Harley, McFarlane, Kempster (Buzzeo 87 mins), Novak, Ryan, Reid, Moore (Airey 64), Ameobi, McMullen (Fawcett 64), Chow, Rivers. Subs not used: Smith, Anderson.