Whitley Bay came from behind to see off the challenge of Congleton Town and earn their place in the third qualifying round of the FA Cup for the first time in five years.
After a lethargic first half display, Paddy Atkinson’s side stepped up a gear after the interval with top scorer Adam Shanks scoring twice in as many minutes to secure the win and £4,500 prize money.
Excellent hard fought victories over Matlock and North Shields in their previous two games had taken their toll on the Bay side, with several players struggling with injuries.
Captain Michael Laws failed a fitness test shortly before kick-off while Sam Norris and Kris Hughes, who both featured in the derby game seven days earlier, were ruled out.
The visitors looked much the livelier in the first half hour.
Two early opportunities for Bay came and went. Robbie Williamson, in the starting line-up for the first time, put the ball over the bar from Alex Kempster’s cross while Shanks drilled a ball across the face of goal after good work from Phil Lumsden.
After eight minutes, Congleton’s Brian Matthews sent a low shot just beyond the far post from wide on the left.
The first controversial moment of the game came in the 12th minute when Kempster raced through on goal and went to ground under a challenge with keeper Andrew Farrimond. Referee Geoff Liddle deemed that Kempster had taken a dive before making contact with the keeper and brandished a yellow card.
The visitors took the lead three minutes later when Matthews again caused trouble down the right before crossing to the edge of the Bay penalty area where Scott McGowan slotted the ball beyond Andrew Jennison.
The Bears were posing the greater threat and further chances fell their way. Matthews almost breaking through only to be denied by a crucial and well timed challenge from Richard Flynn.
A header from Sephton was comfortably held by Jennison, who then saved a low effort from Sam Marshall.
Whitley began to get in the game as half-time approached, with Lumsden’s header from a right wing corner deflected narrowly past the post.
A second corner from Kempster was not dealt with by the Congleton defence and when the ball ran loose, Lumsden crashed a powerful close range shot off the base of the post.
Then Shanks appeared to be two minds when well placed and only half hit a shot when he should have done better.
Right on half-time, Chris McDonald latched onto a great through ball and raced clear, taking the ball wide of Farrimond but he could not get his shot on target, the ball crashing into the side netting as the visitors deservedly retained their lead at the interval.
Whitley changed their formation after the break, Steve Gibson moving into midfield with Lumsden switching to a more defensive role.
The pattern of the game also changed with Whitley looking much more effective and organised.
The pressure was gradually building on the Cheshire side and the breakthrough came in the 66th minute.
Kempster looked to have a great chance when he found space just inside the box but he was denied when Andy Alston bravely blocked his shot. However, the ball rebounded into the path of Shanks whose first time shot from 22 yards flew like a bullet into the top corner.
Whitley’s top scorer, who had just returned from holiday in Las Vegas, had contributed little until this point and might well have been substituted, but the patience of the Bay management brought its reward with the stunning equaliser.
Two minutes later the comeback was complete, though in slightly controversial circumstances.
Alston took a knock in the next Bay attack and was lying on the ground as play reverted to the other end.
The Congleton players along with the referee were seemingly unaware of the injury and allowed play to continue rather than putting the ball into touch to allow Alston to receive treatment.
Chris Reid’s ball out of defence reached Shanks just inside the Congleton half, and with Alston playing him onside he closed in on goal before unleashing a tremendous 20-yard shot beyond the advancing Farrimond and into the net, sending the increasingly vociferous Bay fans into raptures of delight.
With 12 minutes remaining Kempster might have put the result beyond doubt with a 22-yard free kick but the ball curled just inches over the bar with Farrimond beaten.
With his job done a tiring Shanks was substituted and received a tremendous ovation as he left the pitch.
Congleton tried all they could to force their way back into the game but apart from an attempt from McGowan that Jennison comfortably saved, they failed to trouble a solid looking Bay rearguard and it was Whitley who were soon celebrating another important victory.
Whitley Bay: Jennison, Gibson, McDonald, Anderson, Flynn, Reid, Williamson (Young 82), Lumsden, Shanks (Bertram 83), Richardson, Kempster. Subs not used: Gladstone, Day, Guerin.