Whitley Bay 1-3 North Shields
Whitley’s run of misfortune continued as two very late goals denied them the point their performance deserved against local rivals North Shields.
A bumper crowd of 750 fans packed into Hillheads Park for this Good Friday fixture and they were treated to an entertaining and hard fought game.
Before kick off, there was a presentation to Whitley goalkeeper Tom Flynn who made his 100th appearance for the club in the previous game at Penrith.
The visitors started strongly and with seven minutes played, Ben Harmison got a shot on target but Flynn saved low down. Lewis Suddick was then denied a shot on goal by Jack Walker’s timely challenge.
In the tenth minute, former Bay Vase winning hero Paul Robinson put the Robins ahead with a shot that took a deflection and left Flynn helpless as it flew into the net. Two minutes later Richardson fired over the bar after an attempted clearance fell kindly for him in the Bay 18 yard box.
Whitley came more into the game as the half progressed and a ball into the goalmouth by Walker saw Liam Brooks’ shot blocked at the expense of a corner. Another effort from Brooks was headed over the bar by defender Joe Robson.
With 28 minutes played Whitley nearly levelled but Graham Williams’ header from Tom Potter’s cross took a deflection and went just wide of the target. On the half hour, a curling effort from Holmes was safely gathered by Flynn.
A good run down the left wing from Chris Salmon almost brought the equaliser when his shot looked to be heading for the bottom corner of the net only for Sean McCafferty to get his fingertips to the ball and push it round the post.
Aiden Haley fired just over the bar after receiving from Brooks, who was again the supplier in the 42nd minute, crossing for Peter Glen-Ravenhill whose shot from ten yards was kept out by another fine save from McCafferty.
One minute before the interval, Suddick broke away down the right and cut in before driving a low shot across goal, striking the far post and rebounding into the arms of Flynn. In the build up to this shot, referee Graeme Hopper spotted an off the ball incident involving Williams and Harmison, who both went to ground after a collision. After consulting his assistant, Mr Hopper showed Williams a red card and a yellow to Harmison. It seemed particularly harsh on the Bay defender with the general feeling being that the punishment should have been the same for both players. The consequence was that for the second time in four games Whitley were on the wrong end of a controversial dismissal, leaving them to play more than half of the game with just ten men.
After a fairly quiet opening to the second half, Whitley began to exert pressure, forcing three corners in rapid succession. From the third of these, Glen-Ravenhill had a goalbound effort pushed away by McCafferty.
At the other end a fine attempt from Richardson brought an equally good save from Flynn while moments after both sides made their first substitutions of the game, a shot from Haley took a deflection but flashed wide of goal.
Whitley were looking the better side, having the greater share of possession and making light of being a man short, while much of the Shields play looked lethargic. Potter and Salmon were stretching the Robin’s defence with their attacking play down the flanks but when the visitors won a free kick in the bay half, Harmison headed straight at Flynn. Another former Bay favourite Craig McFarlane broke away down the right after coming off the bench but was thwarted by Flynn. Seven minutes from time Whitley came their closest yet to getting back on terms when Potter crossed from the right and Glen-Ravenhill’s header was deflected inches past the post by Pell.
The goal Whitley deserved finally came in the 87th minute when McCafferty, who had previously made several crucial saves, failed to control a back pass and the ball ran free for Glen-Ravenhill to slot into an empty net. It appeared that justice had been done but the drama was far from over and after Glen-Ravenhill almost went clear again, Shields sub Gareth Bainbridge burst through on the left side of the Bay penalty area and slid the ball beyond Flynn into the far corner of the net with only seconds of normal time remaining.
Stunned but not yet defeated, Whitley pushed forward again in stoppage time and after forcing a corner, all ten players including keeper Flynn came upfield in a bid to grab a last ditch equaliser, but the corner was cleared and Dean Holmes was left with a clear run through to the Bay goal. Chris Salmon raced back in a valiant effort to deny the Shields’ striker but it was in vain as Holmes put the ball into the net with the last kick of the game. The final scoreline was extremely harsh on Whitley who, to a man, had battled well throughout the game and received warm applause from the bumper crowd, their biggest of the season by some way.