Willington Quay Saints’ three-game winning streak came to an end as Dale Johnson’s unlucky own goal settled a tight contest that sprung to life in the last half hour of a entertaining second half.
Two forced changes were made to the Quay line-up, with Ryan Ferrier and Kyle Austin missing Micky Young and Gary Latimer came in to the midfield with Stephen King dropping back to centre half in Austin’s absence.
After a dull opening 20 minutes where both teams struggled to pass the ball to a team-mate, Whitburn went agonisingly close to opening the scoring as their left winger’s looping cross went over Carl Henderson before rattling against the post and falling to the feet of striker Ross Macauley, who looked certain to find the net only for Saints skipper Mark Henderson to make an outstanding block on the line to keep the game scoreless.
Athletic were then handed a great chance to take the lead as the referee strangely awarded an in-direct free kick ten yards out as he deemed that Liam Taylor’s touch in the box was an intentional back pass, much to the amazement of the Saints defence. Keeper Henderson was booked for his protests and luckily for Quay the chance came to nothing as Micky Young bravely blocked the resulting kick.
Saints’ first foray forward produced more controversy as a ball through the middle saw three Quay players beat the offside trap as the Whitburn right back was caught napping, but despite the Whitburn official keeping his flag down the referee blew for offside despite being 40 yards away from the incident.
Andy Breheny nearly continued his recent purple patch in front of goal just before half-time as his shot from an angle fizzed just wide of the post in Quay’s best chance in a poor first half.
Whitburn upped the tempo at the start of the second half and Macauley should have fired them in front as he raced away down the right before smashing a shot across Henderson and narrowly past the far post with his strike partner inches away from sliding the ball home.
Ten minutes after the interval Athletic took the lead in fortuitous fashion.
A corner came in from the left and with a desperate lunge to clear the ball Saints defender Dale Johnson was unfortunate to see his attempted clearance fly into the top corner of his own net to gift Whitburn the lead.
Macauley should have doubled that lead just minutes later as he once again found himself through on Henderson’s goal only to once again fire wide.
Saints made three changes halfway through the second half, bringing on Noel Clynch, Anthony Bruce and John Foggett for Macbeth, Taylor and Latimer as they looked to salvage something from the game.
Having shown little sign of scoring in the first 70 minutes, Quay then produced a string of chances as Whitburn were penned deep in their own half.
First a great ball over the top from Bruce found Breheny clean through, but after chesting the ball down he fired wide from 18 yards.
Bruce then found himself in a similar position after a long ball over the top and when he slid forward to get his shot away his effort beat the keeper but not the crossbar as Saints were inches away from levelling.
Glen Johnson had a free kick blocked by the wall and when Foggett’s brilliant left footed cross flew across the face of goal it looked like Saints’ late pressure was going to result in nothing.
As ever in football there is always time for one more chance, and in this case it was Saints’ best of the game.
Stu Duffield played the ball into Bruce’s feet in the box and he did brilliantly to beat two defenders, but just when it looked like he was going to score his shot skewed powerfully across goal and wide with Clynch unable to react quick enough to tap the ball home.
Keeper Henderson was sent forward after the award of a last minute free kick but when Foggett’s kick was cleared leaving a Whitburn player running towards an empty goal, Henderson brought the Athletic player down on the halfway line before receiving a second yellow card and a subsequent red one.
A frustrating defeat for Saints as their late pressure should have seen them take at least a point from a game where luck was not on their side.
The effort and commitment was there from everyone but a bit more quality is needed in the final third if they are to bounce back with a win at home to Alnwick Town Reserves this Saturday.