WHITLEY Bay produced their best performance since going out of the FA Vase two months ago to beat Billingham Town 2-0.
And although both goals came in the last 20 minutes, Whitley were the better side almost throughout the game at Bedford Terrace.
Although in the bottom half of the table, Billingham Town were on a good run of form, having won their previous four home games to pull well clear of the relegation zone.
Whitley fielded a strong side, with LeePaul Scroggins and Chris Fawcett both returning, but the Teessiders were without Chris Dunwell, who suffered a serious injury in Easter Monday’s local derby, and top scorer Jamie Owens.
It was a landmark occasion for Lee Kerr, who was playing his 400th game for the Bay just one day before his 25th birthday.
Heavy wintry showers earlier in the afternoon gave way to sunshine by kick-off, but there was a bitterly cold wind which made conditions far from ideal.
However, an excellent playing surface helped both sides provide an entertaining game for a sparse crowd.
There were early chances at both ends, with Scroggins setting up an opening for Craig McFarlane, whose cross from the right went straight across the face of goal and inches past the far post.
At the other end, James Cronesberry latched on to a long ball from keeper James Briggs and his shot from out on the left clipped the outside of the far post.
Kerr then played an accurate ball out to Fawcett on the right and his cross almost provided the breakthrough but Chow’s header crashed off the bar to the relief of the home side.
Whitley were looking the more likely to score but five minutes before the interval, Town’s Nicky Martin headed just wide of Kyle Hayes’ back post following a good cross from Michael Arthur.
Appeals from Whitley for a penalty were ignored when McFarlane went down in the box and then Fawcett sent a first time shot just wide of the target, and so at half-time, there was still no score.
Nine minutes after the restart, Paul Chow raced clear, rounded the keeper but his shot crashed off the outside of the post and out of play.
Whitley were having the majority of possession with Billingham limited to rare breaks.
Another seemingly obvious penalty claim was waved away when Paul Robinson looked to be pushed to the ground as he tried to connect with a cross from Chow but eventually, with 20 minutes remaining,
Whitley’s persistent pressure paid off when a surging run by Fawcett took him to the by-line where Kerr turned on the ball and chipped it towards the back post where Chow headed home from close range despite the efforts of keeper Briggs and a defender to keep the ball out.
A few minutes later, Robinson cut the ball back across goal from the right and Kerr’s clever back heel almost brought him what would have been a well deserved goal, but it clipped a defender and drifted past the post.
With 12 minutes left, a corner played short by substitute David Pounder to Damon Robson saw the pair exchange passes before Robson floated a high ball towards the back post but caught by the strong wind, it flew into the top corner of the net leaving Briggs helpless.
If there was an element of fortune about the goal, the two goal advantage was no more than Whitley deserved and they comfortably played out the remainder of the game.
Robinson and Robson put Chow through on goal but his shot was blocked, while Callum Anderson in a rare sortie into the opposing penalty area almost got a shot on target.
The only alarm came when substitute Michael McMullen, who had only been on the field for a short time, pulled up with a hamstring injury as he broke away down the right wing and had to be replaced.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Anderson, McFarlane (McMullen 71 mins, Timmons 81 mins), Reid, Scroggins, Williams, Fawcett (Pounder 71 mins), Robson, Kerr, Chow, Robinson. Subs not used: Rowe, Ormston.