A DRAW against in-form West Auckland was a result many Whitley Bay fans would have settled for before kick-off but in the end it was the visitors who were grateful for a share of the points after an entertaining game at Hillheads.
As it was, Bay finished the game with only ten men after Chris Reid received two yellow cards in the space of eight second half minutes.
After the game, manager Ian Chandler summed up the feelings of most home supporters.
“If we had kept 11 on the field we’d have run out easy winners,” he said.
Having dominated the opening half with some of the best football seen at Hillheads for over a year, the turning point came when Reid was dismissed with half an hour still to play.
“We defended well and if we’d managed to hold out until the last ten minutes I think we could still have won, but you could tell that a goal was coming,” added Chandler.
With Craig McFarlane sidelined following an operation and Callum Anderson not yet recovered from a hand injury, Whitley gave debuts to two new signings, Brad Brooking and James Novak.
Against one of the league’s most potent striking forces, the two defenders, alongside Reid and Brian Smith, did well and Whitley looked more secure at the back than in recent weeks.
The game started in dramatic style with Whitley taking the lead after just 80 seconds.
LeePaul Scroggins played the ball into the goalmouth and with the Auckland defence looking hesitant, Paul Chow slipped the ball into the path of Ash Davis who poked it home from barely two yards out.
They kept up the pressure with West looking surprisingly out of sorts and might have doubled their lead when a long ball forward was not cut out by the West defence leaving Chris Fawcett with a clear run on goal, but keeper Mark Bell reaced out to block the shot.
Novak then curled a free kick just beyond the far post.
Scroggins and Paul Robinson went close before Whitley were rewarded with a second goal on 19 minutes.
Lee Kerr floated a free kick to the back corner of the six-yard box and Brian Smith headed the ball back across the face of goal where Reid was unmarked and headed past Bell.
Whitley had penalty claims turned down five minutes before half-time when Chow went down under a challenge from Neil Pattinson.
The second half started in quieter fashion than the first, the first significant action coming when Reid raced forward to try and get his foot to the ball ahead of the keeper and was unfortunate to be cautioned.
Then, just on the hour, Reid, who had been a tower of strength in the Bay defence, made what looked an unnecessary challenge, bringing down an opponent and received a second yellow card.
Whitley now had to reorganise their defence and Chow was sacrificed in favour of midfielder James Fairley.
Within minutes Gardner’s shot hit the bar and Campbell fired over the top.
The visitors were gradually gaining the upper hand but good defending was restricting shots on goal to long distance efforts.
However, with 13 minutes left, they pulled a goal back when substitute Dan Hindmarsh drilled the ball low into the corner of the Bay net.
Five minutes from time, they equalised when Kyle Hayes failed to hold a shot and Gardner netted the rebound.
Though disappointed to concede two late goals, Ian Chandler described this as an excellent Bay performance.
“Hopefully we’ve turned the corner and can push on,” he said.
It was certainly a day when every player made a valuable contribution, but the manager reserved special praise for Brooking and Novak, saying both debutants had excellent games.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, Brooking, Novak, Reid, B Smith, Fawcett, Scroggins, Davis (Morris 79 mins), Kerr (C Smith 90 mins), Chow (Fairley 67 mins), Robinson. Subs not used: Walker, Rowe.
Bay are away to Shildon on Saturday, then on the Tuesday, Whitley welcome Marske United to Hillheads.
On Thursday, October 11, Whitley Bay FC will be hosting a talk-in with former Newcastle United star Paul Cannell.
The striker was a member of the Magpies side from 1972-78 before spending a short time at Hillheads.
A limited number of tickets are still available from the Seahorse clubhouse, price £6, to include a pie and pea supper.