Whitley recorded their biggest FA Cup victory for 17 years in an entertaining and action packed Preliminary Round tie against Barnoldswick Town.
The Lancashire side were making their first ever visit to Hillheads but despite arriving at the ground barely 30 minutes before kick off, they settled quickly and looked lively in the opening exchanges.
Whitley took the lead in the 13th minute when Olly Martin’s ball in midfield took a rebound back into his path and he burst through the centre of the Barnoldswick defence and beat the advancing keeper from just inside the box for his first goal in Bay colours.
The visitors battled back and Tom Flynn had to produce an excellent 21st minute save to deny Mark Threlfall an equaliser. The Bay keeper then had to dive on the loose ball, getting there just in time. From almost drawing level, the Lancashire side found themselves two down just 60 seconds later when a superb crossfield ball out of defence found Martin on the Bay right. The youngster then cut into the 18 yard box before delivering a perfect cross beyond the Town defence to the back post where Jack Foalle applied the finishing touch.
The frantic pace continued and within three minutes Barnoldswick had fought their way back into the game. Zack Dale found space on the right of the Bay defence and cut in before slotting the ball home past Flynn.
Whitley then came under sustained pressure as the North West Counties League side, who were enjoying the greater share of possession, sensed their chance to draw level. Threlfall and Dale both went close but determined defending kept them out.
In a quick break downfield six minutes before half time, the impressive Olly Martin broke clear on the right and his cross into the box was met by Foalle and Town defender Elliott Wilson, who both went for the ball, which ended up in the net with both players on the ground in the goalmouth. Both appeared to make made contact with the ball with Foalle being credited with the goal which restored Whitley’s two goal lead. Having taken a knock when the players clashed, the Bay striker required treatment but was able to continue.
It was a real end to end cup tie and three minutes later the visitors were denied a second goal when Flynn mad a great save to keep out a volley from Joel Melia.
Almost on the stroke of half time, Whitley made it 4-1 when Luke Salmon cut through the heart of the Barnoldswick defence before slipping the ball into the path of Dan Taggart who turned and placed it beyond keeper Ryan Livesey.
While Whitley were deservedly in front at the interval, the margin of their lead was harsh on the Lancashire side, who had posed a real threat throughout the half but were unable to cope with the pace of Martin and Foalle.
A shot from Callum Anderson was just too high in Whitley’s first attempt of the second period while to their credit, Barnoldswick tried their best to get back in the game with shots from Elliott and Crorken being blocked while a header flew inches past the post. Foalle was denied by the feet of Livesey in the 64th minute then almost immediately after, when play switched to the other end, Adam Redford cleared a dangerous cross over his own bar for a corner which came to nothing.
Whitley then raced back upfield and when Foalle was fouled, referee Jamie McCann played a good advantage, allowing Peter Glen-Ravenhill to run clear of the Barnoldswick back line and beat Livesey from 15 yards. At 5-1 there was no way back for the visitors and the final quarter of the game was comfortable for Whitley.
Fifteen minutes from time, just after Martin drilled a shot narrowly off target, Glen-Ravenhill, in a near repeat of his first goal, burst through a tiring Barnoldswick defence and slotted the ball past Livesey from the edge of the box for Whitley’s sixth goal.
As the game approached stoppage time, the Bay captain had two chances to complete his hat trick, the first from Salmon’s excellent cross when he sidefooted the wrong side of the post and then he connected well with Martin’s ball into the box but was denied by a fine save from Livesey.
In the end it was a thoroughly convincing victory but for the first hour, Barnoldswick matched Whitley for effort and attacking play. However superior finishing and more disciplined defending proved decisive and there was a well deserved standing ovation for the Bay side when they left the pitch at the final whistle.
Whitley are one of only four Northern League sides definitely through to the next round and pick up just under £3000 in prize money for this victory.