WHITLEY Bay made it five wins in a row with what was eventually a fairly comfortable League Cup victory over Consett on a frosty night at Hillheads.
Home boss Ian Chandler made four changes from the side that started the FA Vase tie against Causeway United at the weekend, Brian Smith, James Fairley, David Pounder and Michael McMullen all starting the game.
Missing were Callum Anderson, who was unavailable, Brad Brooking, who had a slight hamstring injury, Paul Chow and Paul Robinson.
Three postponements due to the bad weather meant this was Consett’s first game since the sides met at Belle Vue Park last month and the Steelmen, who were without several regulars, included two teenage debutants in their squad.
The pitch was in remarkably good condition but the far side of the ground was cordoned off as the terraces were still icy from the previous night’s frost.
In a lively and even opening period, Consett showed that they would provide a tougher test for Whitley’s defence than had been the case at the weekend.
However, the visitors were soon forced into a change when Steven Aiston, one of their main threats in the league game, was unable to continue.
Whitley’s first chance came on 11 minutes when Michael McMullen broke through but keeper Peter Jameson quickly came off his line and smothered the shot.
Ash Davis was playing as the lone striker and it was his pass that gave Fairley a chance after 17 minutes, but his shot curled just beyond the far post.
A low shot at the other end saw Kyle Hayes get down to push the ball away just when it looked as if it might creep in at the near post.
The breakthrough came five minutes before the interval when McMullen raced through from just inside the Consett half and squared the ball for Davis to volley past Jameson.
It was a lead Whitley deserved on the balance of play, but Consett were certainly not out of the game at half-time.
Seven minutes after the break, Bay almost doubled their lead when McMullen’s strong shot from the right edge of the 18-yard box was parried but not held by Jameson. The ball ran on past the far post where quicker reactions from Fairley would surely have seen him slide the ball home, but instead he allowed the keeper time to recover and make the save.
Three minutes later, Brian Smith headed over the bar from David Pounder’s corner, but with the home side keeping up the pressure, their second goal came barely a minute later.
The Consett defence seemed to stop, expecting an offside flag which never came, and when Fairley crossed from the left, LeePaul Scroggins was unmarked inside the six-yard box for a simple finish.
Possibly feeling that the tie was won, Whitley allowed the visitors back in the game, or perhaps it was Consett who deserve credit for battling back and not simply lying down.
Either way, within two minutes, a shot from Andrew Cuthbertson hit the post with Hayes grateful to gather the rebound.
With 65 minutes on the clock, Consett gave themselves a lifeline when prolific striker Michael Mackay lobbed the ball over the advancing Hayes from around 20 yards out on the left.
It was the first goal that Whitley had conceded in almost of six hours football and a second could have sent the game into extra time.
The temperature was dropping steadily and conditions were beginning to get slippery on the increasingly frosty surface so it came as something of a relief when Brian Smith rose above the Consett defence to send a looping header from Chris Fawcett’s free kick beyond Jameson’s despairing dive and just inside the post to restore Whitley’s two-goal advantage.
There were still 15 minutes left and Consett’s spirits would not have been raised at the sight of Chow coming off the bench, along with Craig Smith, for the final stages of the game.
In the event, Whitley’s leading scorer did not add to his tally for the season and apart from a header by Slocombe that failed to trouble Hayes, there was little further action, with Whitley comfortably seeing out the remaining minutes.
Davis once again had a good game leading the attack, his physical presence causing problems for Consett’s inexperienced defenders, while Lee Kerr playing in midfield got through a lot of work.
With Robinson, Brooking and Anderson all missing the game, the performance served to demonstrate the strength of the squad that Chandler now has at his disposal.
Perhaps the only disappointment on the night was the attendance – Whitley’s lowest in a competitive game for five years.
A League Cup tie on a bitterly cold December night when there is televised football for the armchair spectator is never going to bring the fans out in huge numbers, so credit is due to the hardy souls who turned up for this game and were rewarded with Whitley’s sixth cup tie victory of the season, and one that sees them go into the new year still with a chance of silverware in three cup competitions.
The draw for the third round has given Whitley another home game, this time against the winners of the second round match between Ryhope CW and Hebburn Town.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, McFarlane, Novak, Fawcett, B Smith (C Smith 76 mins), Scroggins, Fairley (Chow 76 mins), Pounder, Kerr, Davis, McMullen. Subs not used: Robinson, Brooking, Robertson.