A first half goal from Kyle Patton proved decisive as Whitley maintained their excellent away form with a hard fought victory over Sunderland RCA.
It was their first win at Meadow Park for five years and with three of the top six sides losing, it enabled Whitley to move closer to the leading pack.
Playing down the slope on a damp afternoon in Ryhope, Whitley made a promising start and in the ninth minute, Thibault Charmey drove a 25 yard free kick narrowly wide of the upright. Almost immediately, RCA attacked up the left flank with Stephen Callen testing Tom Flynn with a shot that the Bay keeper parried before the ball was cleared.
Whitley came back strongly forcing a series of corners but they were unable to break through a solid home defence. However in the 14th minute they made the crucial breakthrough when Kyle Patton showed excellent skill just outside the box and breaking clear of defender Ross McNab he fired past keeper Keith Finch from 18 yards.
The home side battled back into the game and in the 25th minute Flynn was forced into action again to deny Michael Charlton after Callen had raced away down the left before playing a dangerous ball across goal. Two minutes later, Luke Page lobbed the ball wide of the target then play quickly switched to the other end as Alex Kempster went past his marker before delivering a cross from the right which Matty Cornish struck first time but his goalbound effort was blocked.
RCA were beginning to get on top and the final stages of the half saw Whitley forced back in defence as Page twice failed to get attempts on target following good approach work from his team mates. Shortly before the whistle Nathan O’Neill headed just wide from a good ball into the box by Callen.
Straight from the restart, substitute Larkin had an attempt pushed over the bar by Flynn as RCA kept up the pressure. Just before the hour mark, Page put the ball in the net but not before an offside flag had been raised.
After Patton was clumsily brought down as he cut in from the left towards the edge of the box, tempers briefly flared on both sides with a flurry of bookings, but calm was soon restored.
The home side continued to have the majority of possession but Whitley’s defence, bolstered by the introduction of Graham Williams midway through the half, battled strongly and kept them out. With ten minutes remaining, Patton went close to putting the result beyond doubt when he outpaced the home defence and fired in a low shot that veteran keeper Finch did well to parry.
At the other end O’Neill was denied by Flynn’s excellent diving save and as the hosts pushed everyone forward in a last ditch attempt to rescue a point, Ross Preston’s close range effort following a left wing corner crashed off the post. The final whistle soon followed and the large contingent of Bay fans who provided RCA with their biggest attendance of the season were soon able to celebrate victory.