A game that had already been heralded as a return to Hillheads for former manager and Whitley Bay legend Ian Chandler, took on added significance when on Friday evening one of his Wembley heroes, fans’ favourite Paul Robinson, rejoined from Blyth Spartans.
While both received a warm welcome back to Hillheads, Chandler, now manager at Durham City along with assistant Brian Rowe, could only look on from the unfamiliar position of the away dugout as Robinson set up both of Whitley’s goals and provided the quality and creativity that had been missing from the Bay midfield so far this season.
With the exception of Chris Reid, who is still recovering from injury, Leon Ryan had the luxury of a full squad to choose from, giving him the opportunity to view the game from the sidelines.
Whitley began like a team inspired and they peppered the City goal with shots in the early stages.
After just two minutes Craig McFarlane’s cross from the right flew inches beyond the far post before Robinson almost made the perfect start on his return, with a left footed shot curling just past the post.
Durham were forced into an early change when experienced midfielder Stephen Stewart had to be replaced after only seven minutes.
Moments later Peter Watling volleyed over the bar from Robinson’s corner, and with 13 minutes on the clock, Paul Chow had a great chance to put Whitley in front but he could not get enough contact on another Robinson corner and his header went beyond the back post.
McFarlane, who along with Robbie Bird, was using his pace down the wing to good effect, did well to cut the ball back from almost on the by-line but Watling could not get his shot on target.
Durham were not posing a serious threat to the Bay defence and Mark Cook comfortably dealt with shots from Kyle Fryatt and Callum Munro.
Whitley were looking much the stronger side but it was against the run of play that City took the lead on 28 minutes.
Callum Hope, who spent a short spell at Whitley under Chandler last season and rejoined his former boss during the summer, played a defence splitting through ball to Fryatt who cut in from the left and slotted his shot past Cook just inside the far post.
Whitley immediately retaliated and when Bird played the ball short to McFarlane, his cross into the goalmouth was headed wide by Chow after taking a deflection off a defender.
Whitley were creating but failing to convert chances, but their luck changed, and with it the course of the game, in a two-minute period shortly before the interval.
After Whitley were awarded a free kick wide on the right, Robinson’s pin-point cross to the back post was headed home by Chow to level the score in the 39th minute.
Less than two minutes later Robinson was bemusing the City defence with his ball control and his mazy run inside the 18-yard box took him past two defenders before he was brought down, with referee Danny Markham immediately pointing to the spot.
Chow comfortably beat keeper Jordan Harkness with the penalty, taking his tally for the season to eight.
It was just like old times, Robinson the provider and Chow the scorer giving Whitley the lead that their first half performance warranted.
Indeed there could have been few complaints from the visitors if there had been more than one goal separating the sides.
The second half provided more of the same, Whitley in control and creating chances, while City struggled to make an impression with Callum Anderson and Chris McDonald in particular catching the eye with assured performances in what was a strong defensive unit.
Chow was not far off target with a header from Alex Kempster’s left wing cross while Bird’s ball into the goalmouth from the opposite wing reached Watling but his attempt was cleared.
A clumsy challenge on Robinson earned Chris Wallace a caution before the City midfielder blazed a shot wide in what was a rare excursion downfield in the second half.
Whitley were soon back on the attack and McFarlane had a shot saved by Harkness after bursting down the right and cutting inside a defender.
Chow saw a shot deflected just wide and the keeper then held onto a deflected shot from Robinson that looked destined for the net.
Anderson then went close as Whitley pressed for the third goal that would have made the game safe.
Their dominance deserved reward and when Watling chased a long ball down the middle it looked as if he might reach it first but Harkness raced out of goal and the two collided just inside the penalty area.
The ball ran loose and it looked as if the script had been written for Robinson to score on his return to the club and wrap up victory, but he was unlucky to see his carefully placed shot rebound off the angle of post and crossbar.
Meanwhile, Watling was still on the ground and in pain after being caught in the ribs by the keeper’s knee.
Despite treatment, he was unable to continue and was replaced by Marc Ellison.
Whitley made a second change two minutes later, Jonny Godsmark taking the place of Kempster.
With City, despite showing plenty of endeavour, lacking a cutting edge, Whitley saw out the remaining minutes in relative comfort to complete a thoroughly deserved third consecutive win on home soil and make it a disappointing return, on the pitch at least, for Chandler and his family.
Meanwhile, there was a definite buzz of optimism among Bay fans with Paul Robinson back in their ranks and a performance reminiscent of the FA Vase winning years.
Whitley Bay: Cook, McFarlane, McDonald, Anderson, Smith, Laws, Bird, Robinson, Watling (Ellison 74), Chow, Kempster (Godsmark 76). Subs not used: Brooking, Buzzeo, Gladstone.