|FA Vase Quarter Final||1286|
|Saturday 28th February 2009||Whitley Bay V Biggleswade Town||5-2|
Match Report By Julian Tyley
Whitley are through to the semi finals of the FA Vase for the second year in succession after a magnificent performance at Hillheads when they completely overwhelmed a disappointing Biggleswade side. Even the most ardent Bay fan could not have anticipated the ease with which Whitley repeatedly cut through the visitors defence in a particularly one sided first half.
The Bedfordshire side were in the Quarter Finals for the first time and perhaps some of their players were overawed by the occasion and by the size of the crowd that packed into Hillheads, causing the kick off to be delayed by ten minutes to allow everyone into the ground.
A big plus for Whitley was the return of captain David Coulson following injury, but it was countered by the absence of Craig McFarlane who picked up an injury himself last week. That was the only change from the side that defeated Stratford seven days earlier.
Whitley showed their attacking intentions straight away with Paul Chow testing Waders’ keeper Dean Bull with a low shot and then firing just wide of the post moments later. Chris Moore was finding plenty of space on the right wing and with eight minutes on the clock, he cut in and shot just over the bar. Moore again raced away down the wing, easily outpacing the defence before squaring the ball to Paul Robinson whose first time effort on goal was blocked and eventually scrambled away out of play.
Biggleswade then broke away down field but a shot from distance by Scott Field flew comfortably over the angle of bar and post without seriously troubling Terry Burke in the Bay goal. Play quickly returned to the other end where the struggling visitors seemed content to simply hit the ball away from goal. In the 19th minute they paid the penalty for a poor clearance when the ball was knocked back into the goalmouth, where Chow’s header was cleared off the line but only as far as David Coulson who fired the ball into the net from close range.
Two minutes later Moore had another shot blocked and not long after, the tricky winger was cynically tripped by defender Neil Morgan who could not cope with his pace and deservedly received a yellow card. Whitley kept up the pressure forcing the visitors into more mistakes as they were stretched on both wings and over run in midfield as Paul Robinson’s close ball control earned applause from the crowd. Phil Bell sent a lob inches over the bar then Moore’s cross just eluded Fawcett as he closed in on goal. A rare attack by Biggleswade ended with a poor effort from fully 30 yards out, the attempt from Hewitt ending up well wide of goal.
A devastating last eight minutes of the half effectively sealed victory for Whitley as they scored three times in rapid succession. On 38 minutes, Fawcett’s cross from the left was neatly tucked away at the near post by Phil Bell for what was Whitley’s 100th goal of the season in all competitions. Six minutes later, Lee Picton’s long throw from the right was flicked on by Leon Ryan to David Coulson, unmarked six yards out in front of goal and he headed the ball firmly into the net to make it 3-0. The visitors were in disarray and two minutes into stoppage time defender Paul Reynolds inexplicably handled the ball from Paul Robinson’s right wing corner. Lee Kerr sent the keeper the wrong way from the penalty spot to leave Whitley 4-0 ahead at half time.
The game was as good as won but Biggleswade regrouped and made two substitutions after the interval in a bid to stem the flow of attacks down the right wing. Initially it did not seem to be making a difference as Moore got away and crossed to the back post where Bell’s header went narrowly wide. Paul Chow then saw a shot blocked as Whitley kept up the pressure. Robinson then brought an excellent one handed save from Bull with a great volley that he struck perfectly.
However, Biggleswade retaliated and caught Whitley by surprise when from 25 yards out on the right, Ryan Redford struck the ball across Burke and into the far corner of the net to give his side a glimmer of hope. That glimmer was extinguished within two minutes when Whitley once again exposed the frailties of the Waders’ defence, Lee Kerr being played clear in plenty of space on the right of midfield. He raced away from a struggling defence before crossing to Paul Chow who slid the ball home to restore Whitley’s four goal lead.
There was much more determination in the visitors’ play in the second half and a few minutes later Burke had to palm the ball away after it was crossed from the right by Folds. Mistakes were less frequent but it was really a case of damage limitation as the game was well beyond them now. Fawcett went close to adding a sixth for Whitley but from a good position in front of goal he fired wide of the target. Ian Chandler made three substitutions midway through the second half, giving Reay, Bone and Reid a taste of the action while allowing Chow, Bell and Fawcett a breather, probably with the hectic league programme in mind. Perhaps inevitably the game lost some of its momentum in the later stages although Whitley did have more chances, most notably when Chris Reid headed over the bar from yet another pin point cross from Moore out on the right.
Two minutes from time, Biggleswade reduced the deficit with an excellent shot from well outside the penalty area by substitute Mark Webster, whose effort took the crowd and probably Terry Burke as well by surprise. Good goal as it was, it came far too late to have any impact on the game and right at the end Lee Kerr brought yet another save from the overworked Bull as Whitley emphasised their superiority.
The crowd of 1286 spectators were well entertained with seven goals and apart from the band of travelling fans from Bedfordshire, they must have thoroughly enjoyed Whitley’s attacking brand of football and in particular their superb first half performance. Every member of the team played their part in what was a truly memorable game for all Bay fans. Following Whitley's two previous Quarter Finals, at Clitheroe in 2002 and last year at Hungerford, both of which were tense and very closely contested, it was quite a relief for the fans to be able to simply enjoy the ease of the victory, but for the players it was important that they retained their concentration right to the end, and all credit is due to them for doing so when the game was won by half time.
After a display such as this, confidence among players and supporters is understandably high and Wembley is now just a tantalising two games away. After the agony of last season’s semi final, can Whitley go one better this time? Everyone at the club and throughout the north east must be hoping so.
WHITLEY BAY; Burke, Taylor, Picton, Robinson, Coulson, Ryan, Moore, Bell(Reid 74mins), Kerr, Chow(Reay 66mins), Fawcett(Bone 81mins)