Meadow Park at Ryhope has not been a happy hunting ground for Whitley Bay in recent years.
And once again they came home empty handed after a hard fought game when the luck was very much against them.
After conceding an early goal they lost striker Adam Shanks to a serious injury and were twice denied by the woodwork as they battled for an equaliser only to see the hosts seal victory with a second goal in stoppage time.
Whitley started poorly and it soon became evident that the difficult playing surface would become an important factor in the game firstly when keeper Tom Flynn lost his footing making a clearance and shortly afterwards when a defender slipped when about to make a tackle, allowing the hosts a chance on goal. RCA took the lead in the tenth minute when Stephen Callen raced clear down the left flank and slid the ball across Flynn and into the net via the far post. Three minutes later the lead could have been doubled when Liam McBryde chipped the ball past Flynn but Nicky Allen got back to make a tremendous goal line clearance.
Whitley gradually fought their way into the game and Potter’s cross from the right was gathered by Carmichael at the second attempt.
Five minutes later, Alex Kempster broke away and rounded Carmichael before slotting the ball towards goal. Bay fans were about to celebrate but just as the ball was about to cross the line, Preston matched what Allen had done at the other end and made a dramatic clearance. Whitley continued to press forward and a 20 yard shot from David Hall took a slight deflection and flew just inches wide of the target. Adam Shanks then curled an effort just over the bar before play switched to the other end where Michael Charlton wasted an excellent chance with a weakly struck shot. Nine minutes before the interval, Kempster raced through on the left and his low shot beat Carmichael but he was thwarted once again by the determined hosts as this time it was McGuinness who raced back to clear off the line.
Flynn made an excellent save to keep out a header from Callen then in stoppage time the Bay keeper pushed away an attempt from Larkin.
It looked a difficult proposition for Whitley playing up the slope in the second half and their hopes were dealt a major blow just four minutes after the restart when Adam Shanks fell to the ground in obvious pain after a bad challenge by McGuinness.
The RCA defender was cautioned while after lengthy treatment, Shanks had to be stretchered off the pitch. The injury was later diagnosed as ankle ligament damage and could keep him sidelined for up to eight weeks.
Replacing Shanks was Peter Glen-Ravenhill, signed during the week from North Shields, while in a second substitution, Aiden Haley was brought on in place of Callum Munro.
Both made a significant contribution as Whitley pushed forward in search of an equaliser with the home side content to soak up pressure and rely on the counter attack.
In the 69th minute, Glen-Ravenhill struck the post with a first time effort from 16 yards, with Carmichael beaten. Six minutes later, Potter crossed from the right and Brooks got a header on target but determined defending kept the ball out.
Whitley kept plugging away and with ten minutes remaining, the woodwork denied Glen-Ravenhill for a second time when his shot from Potter’s cross crashed off the post and away from goal.
In a late substitution, new signing French midfielder Thibault Charmey came off the bench for the final few minutes but despite going close, he was unable to change the course of the events.
Just as the game was entering a lengthy period of stoppage time, and with Whitley pushing more men forward, they were dealt a cruel blow with a RCA counter attack when substitute Mark Robinson broke away and drilled the ball past Flynn from 18 yards to give the hosts a flattering two goal advantage and seal victory.
It was cruel on Whitley but credit is due to RCA who were resilient in defence and took two of the chances that came their way.
WHITLEY BAY: Flynn, Munro(Haley 67mins), McDonald, Hall, Anderson, Allen, Potter, Patton, Shanks(Glen-Ravenhill 55mins), Brooks(Charmey 83mins), Kempster
Referee: Craig Dean
Following the game, Marc Nash gave his assessment of a frustrating afternoon for Whitley and their fans.
“I thought we were a little disjointed in the first half and they were winning battles all over the pitch.
“That led to a few errors and the first goal we gave away was very poor. We survived another scare but we really should have been two down.
“We reacted well after that and should easily have been level with Kempster twice needing two similar efforts cleared off the line. David Hall then shaved the post with a drive as we improved vastly.
“Second half up the slope looked a tough prospect but we controlled the game, especially after changing shape due to Shanks’s injury. Aidan came on and drove us forward and also Peter Ravenhill looked sharp when he came on but luck deserted us as he’s hit the inside of both posts on two separate occasions.
“Their late goal killed it when we were pushing but overall we need stick to our guns and play on the deck because we have the ability to do it. “Unfortunately, we got caught in the first half playing their game and playing into their hands. Yes the pitch was poor and affected the lads’ confidence to pass the ball but we’ve got to overcome that and be braver.”
On Boxing Day, Whitley welcome West Allotment Celtic to Hillheads for a local derby game with kick off at noon.