Wilkinson strikes late to earn Whitley Bay a point
A thoroughly entertaining game that swung first one way then the other ended all square thanks to a stoppage time equaliser from Whitley Bay's Ross Wilkinson.
South Shields arrived at Hillheads as Northern League second division champions and were strengthened by a number of high profile summer signings.
Whitley’s latest signing, Greek defender Angelos Eleftheriadis, made his debut at centre back while Adam Shanks and Alex Kempster returned to the side with youngster Tom Potter retaining his starting place after an impressive performance in midweek.
However, Callum Patton and Kyle Fryatt were both unavailable while Callum Anderson missed the game through illness.
On a wet and windy afternoon, the first chance of note came after 17 minutes when a long ball down field from the Mariners keeper reached Gavin Cogdon inside the Bay area, but the former Spennymoor man drove his shot wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, the first in a series of robust tackles by the visitors saw Steve Gibson go down near the right touchline, but David Foley escaped punishment.
Three minutes later, following a foul on Kempster by Michael Turner, Chris McDonald’s free kick was put behind for a corner.
Whitley took the lead in the 25th minute when a 30-yard speculative shot from McDonald skidded across the wet grass and flew into the net through the hands of Shields keeper Chris Elliott.
The goal shook the Mariners and three minutes later David Carson made a surging run into the Bay box but Tom Flynn got down well to collect the ball safely.
Gibson then cleared off the line for Whitley, but in the 31st minute the visitors drew level when Cogdon was allowed space inside the six-yard box and headed home Palmer’s cross from the right.
Back came Whitley with Andy Robertson causing panic in the Mariners defence with a ball across goal that took a fortunate deflection away from danger.
The referee was incurring the wrath of the Bay players and fans as he allowed physical challenges to go unpunished, but Whitley refused to be put off their stride and regained the lead with 39 minutes played.
In a well rehearsed training ground move, a right wing corner was played short to Potter who crossed into the box where Shanks rose to head home from eight yards.
With Eleftheriadis looking assured and slotting into the defence well, Whitley’s lead was not threatened in the remaining minutes of the half and they were deservedly ahead at the interval as the rain continued to sweep across the ground.
Shields fought back strongly on the restart and it took them just seven minutes to restore parity, Carson levelling with a powerful 20-yard effort that flew past Flynn into the top corner.
Following his first half leniency, referee Bernard Law struggled to retain control of the game as several feisty challenges brought three yellow cards in almost as many minutes.
The visitors were looking the stronger side as the half progressed with Cogdon twice going close while Flynn did well to deny Palmer in the 78th minute.
Seven minutes from time, the Mariners were awarded a free kick when it appeared that a Bay player had been fouled, a decision that led to the visitors taking the lead for the first time in the game.
The ball was played down the left and a shot rebounded kindly for Palmer who drilled a low effort past Flynn.
The visiting fans may have felt this was the winning goal, but not the Bay players who battled back with determination and forced the Mariners onto the back foot and almost drew level within 60 seconds.
Two minutes into stoppage time, Whitley won a free kick 25 yards from goal and when McDonald played the ball into the box, Shanks knocked the ball back for Wilkinson to lash home a dramatic equaliser to the delight of the home fans.
In the dying seconds of the game there was even a chance for Whitley to snatch victory as they pushed forward yet again, but Shields held out and in the final analysis a draw was probably a fair result.
The crowd of almost 500 fans who had braved a wet and windy afternoon were rewarded with an action packed game between two well matched sides.
Whitley Bay: Flynn, Munro (Keltie 85), McDonald, Wilkinson, Eleftheriadis, Gibson, Potter (Blake 80), Fowler, Robertson, Shanks (Allen 90+2), Kempster.