A TREMENDOUS ten-minute spell by Whitley Bay FC at the start of the second half turned their game against South Shields around after the home side had dominated the opening period.
The Whitley team showed six changes from the side that beat Stokesley, the most significant being the inclusion of captain David Coulson for the first time since his cruciate ligament injury at Barwell 11 months ago. He played just over half of the game, looking as strong as ever in defence and came through unscathed.
Whitley do not have a good record at Filtrona Park, losing there twice last season, and their prospects did not look good during a first half when they were on the defensive for much of the time.
Kyle Hayes made several excellent saves to leave the Mariners frustrated, the first coming after nine minutes when he pushed a strong shot from Roberts Briggs wide of the far post.
Soon after, Barrie Smith fired just over the bar as the home side continued to look the more dangerous.
With 18 minutes played, Lee Kerr’s first time effort from Craig McFarlane’s cross flew wide of goal and five minutes later Steve Gibson’s cross was headed goalwards by McFarlane and the ball took a deflection off Coulson’s head on its way beyond the post.
That was as good as it got for Whitley as service to Kerr and Chow from midfield was proving ineffective and neither was able to make an impact, and Shields keeper Josh Carmichael did not have to make a save of any significance during the first 45 minutes.
At the other end, Hayes was being kept much busier and after saving well from Scroggins, he had to push a dipping shot from Smith over the ball after 35 minutes.
Alongside Coulson, Brian Rowe looked as strong as ever in defence against physical and at times niggling opponents.
Colvin and Burnell both tried their luck in the latter stages of the half but the Bay defence held firm and there was no score at the interval.
In a number of games this season, Whitley’s second half performance has been a great improvement on what has gone before but rarely if ever has the difference been so dramatic as on this occasion.
Less than two minutes after the restart, Kerr cut through the home defence but with the ball bobbling slightly his shot struck the base of the post as Carmichael could only look on.
A minute later, Gibson’s throw level with the 18 yard box was met by David Pounder who cut in and from a narrow angle unleashed a great shot just inside the post to give Whitley the lead.
At this point Coulson left the field to great applause from the Bay fans, to be replaced by Darren Timmons, another defender who was missing for the first three months of the season through injury.
To have both of these experienced defenders back in the squad is a huge boost as the season approaches its climax.
Having dominated the opening half, the Mariners might have been expected to retaliate quickly after falling a goal behind but the opposite was the case.
Whitley took control of midfield and within four minutes had doubled their lead when Damon Robson found space just outside the penalty area and drove a great 20 yard shot low into the corner of the net for his third goal of the season, doubling his previous total for the club.
If the first two goals were good, the third was even better and after the game it was being talked about by fans and players as the goal of the season.
Craig McFarlane brought the ball forward from near the half way line down the left wing, raced past at least two Shields defenders before cutting in and unleashing a superb 25 yard shot that flew into the top corner of the net giving Carmichael no chance whatsoever.
It looked a goal from the moment it left his foot and put Whitley into a commanding three goal lead with only nine minutes of the second half played.
The Mariners now looked a well beaten side but even worse was to follow as barely a minute later, Smith was shown a red card after a two-footed challenge on Kerr near the left corner flag.
Fortunately Kerr was not injured but the reckless tackle received what it deserved and left the home side with ten men for the remaining 35 minutes.
Whitley were rampant and before Shields could reorganise, Gary Ormston’s header almost gave Whitley a fourth goal but David Colvin got back just in time to hook the ball off the line.
Possession football was the order of the day at this stage as Whitley controlled the game with relative ease as the home side looked dejected and lacking in ideas.
A worry for Whitley came with 20 minutes left when Craig McFarlane hobbled off injured, to be replaced by Brian Smith.
With 15 minutes left, Rowe made a surging run forward from defence and might have tried his luck from the edge of the penalty area but instead crossed to Robson whose shot was deflected wide.
Pounder then sent a 20-yard shot past the post as Whitley continued to dominate proceedings.
Late on, with all three substitute used, Gareth Williams had to leave the field injured, evening up the numbers, then in the last minute of the game Smith sent a header just past the upright.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, McFarlane (Smith 70 mins), Pounder, Rowe, Coulson (Timmons 48 mins), Williams, Ormston, Robson, Chow (Taylor 64 mins), Kerr, Gibson. Subs not used: Robinson, Fawcett.