A youthful Whitley Bay side created enough chances to have beaten last season’s league runners up Marske United, but having put themselves in a winning position, they conceded twice in the last 20 minutes and had to settle for a draw.
With six players missing through injury and two more unavailable, prospects did not look good, but Whitley’s youngsters – the average age of the starting line-up was 21 and the side was captained by Alex Kempster – showed real commitment and were by far the better side in the first half.
After Aiden Haley and Chris McDonald had created early chances, Whitley went ahead in the 17th minute. A speculative 20-yard shot from Kyle Fryatt was deflected behind for a corner, which was taken by Callum Patton. The ball was not properly cleared and when it fell to Ryan Keltie, the young centre back turned and fired first time low into the net from 12 yards.
Whitley passed the ball accurately and did not allow the visitors time to settle or create chances of their own.
On the half hour, an excellent move involving McDonald and Tom Potter ended with a shot just off target, but four minutes later Andy Robertson and Kempster combined to bring a fine save from Robert Dean in the Marske goal.
Callum Patton then fired narrowly wide after being played through by Fryatt.
Whitley should have had more to show for their efforts but at the interval they led by just the one goal.
Four minutes into the second period, Potter chipped just inches over the bar after being played in by McDonald, then Josh Nearney sent a header narrowly off target from Patton’s free kick.
The only yellow card of the game came shortly before the hour mark when Marske defender Matthew Bell clumsily brought down Fryatt as he threatened to break through on goal.
Justice was done from the free kick when Kempster’s ball into the box was poked into his own goal by Nathan Mulligan under pressure from Potter.
Moments later Whitley might have got a third but Dean brought off two excellent saves to deny Fryatt and then Potter.
It was looking comfortable for Whitley, but a double substitution by Marske brought them to life as they showed more purpose and they pulled a goal back in the 70th minute.
Six minutes after coming off the bench, Nathan Evans crossed from the left and when the ball was nodded down, Danny Earl beat Michael Hammond from eight yards.
The visitors now sensed they had a chance of getting something from the game, but Logan Powell, drafted into the squad from the reserves, made a quick impact after replacing Patton when he crossed into the goalmouth but Fryatt missed a glorious chance to restore Whitley’s two-goal lead, failing to find the target.
Powell was then denied by the impressive Dean, but then with just five minutes remaining, Whitley failed to cut out the ball in midfield and when it was played forward, Nathan Mulligan crossed from the right for Aaron Ramsbottom to bundle over the line. The goal was allowed to stand, despite suspicions of handball and Whitley’s lead had been wiped out.
Barely a minute later, a vital block by Hammond prevented Earl from snatching a third for the visitors, but in a frantic finale, Fryatt saw another attempt blocked at the expense of a corner.
A surprising late substitution saw Adam Shanks come off the bench, having made a rapid recovery after suffering what appeared to be a bad foot injury in midweek, and he nearly grabbed a stoppage time winner but his effort from Powell’s cross was blocked.
While it was disappointing to let a two-goal lead slip, there were certainly plenty of positives from the performance of this young Whitley side.
Whitley Bay: Hammond, Nearney, McDonald, Haley, Keltie, Anderson, Fryatt, Potter (Munro 78), Robertson (Shanks 80), Patton (Powell 75), Kempster.
On Saturday Whitley Bay are in FA Vase action when they take on unbeaten Stockton Town at Hillheads in the second qualifying round, then on Wednesday, September 28, they travel to last season’s Vase winners Morpeth Town in the league.