|Northern League Cup 4th Round||115|
|Wednesday 18th March 2009||Billingham Synthonia V Whitley Bay||2-4|
Match Report By Julian Tyley
Whitley twice came from behind at Billingham to earn their place in the semi final of the League Cup, where they will have home advantage over either Penrith or Tow Law who meet in Cumbria on Tuesday evening.
Damon Robson made a welcome return to the starting line up following a lengthy injury, but Whitley were still without Mark Taylor while Paul Robinson and Terry Burke were also missing as the Bay went in search of their second semi final place of the season.
Synthonia, who were 4-1 winners in the league game at Central Avenue back in September, made the best possible start, going ahead with less than three minutes on the clock. Whitley’s defence seemed to freeze when the ball was not cleared and David Barnes stabbed the ball past a static Rob McLean from six yards.
The lead only lasted for seven minutes with Whitley’s equaliser coming in their first attack, when Chris Fawcett was put clear on the left wing by Lee Kerr’s accurate pass. Fawcett raced through on goal unchallenged and slotted the ball past Synners’ keeper Ben Escritt. Whitley briefly threatened again when Kerr sent a speculative looping half volley over the keeper and on to the roof of the net, but there was little to choose between the sides for much of the half. With 34 minutes gone, Fawcett and Escritt both went for a long ball. The ball rebounded off the keeper to Paul Chow whose hurried shot trickled wide of the unguarded goal. Five minutes before the interval, Billingham’s former Middlesbrough man Craig Hignett found himself clear on goal but McLean did well to rescue Whitley, racing out to block the ball as Hignett hesitated. Seconds before the half time whistle, Lee Kerr’s left wing corner was headed not far wide of the target by Phil Bell.
Six minutes after the restart, Whitley suffered a major scare when Craig Fawcett fell to the ground in obvious pain after a challenge for the ball. There was a lengthy delay and it seemed to be a serious injury but it was to the relief of everyone in the ground that a stretcher was not required. However Fawcett had to be helped off the pitch, still in pain with what appeared to be a badly twisted ankle. Eight minutes later things got worse for Whitley when McLean spilled a cross from the left by Jason Honeyman and Darren Sankey pounced to drive the loose ball home to put Synners back in front and seemingly in control of the game.
Whitley battled back and after 65 minutes heartened the visiting fans when they equalised for the second time, Paul Chow scoring from close range after a shot had rebounded of the base of the post. This goal appeared to knock much of the confidence out of the home side and barely two minutes later David Coulson came up to head Kerr’s corner just wide of goal. Substitute Chris Reid was playing his part in the fight back as Whitley, scenting victory, stepped up the pace. Chris Moore troubled the home defence when he cut the ball back from the by line and Phil Bell’s shot was collected by Escritt at the second attempt. Whitley deservedly went in front for the first time a minute later when Chow broke away on the left and beat Escritt at the near post with a low shot from 15 yards out.
Robson, who had made a good comeback, was replaced by Darren Reay for the last ten minutes as Whitley took control of the game, allowing Synners little time on the ball. Four minutes from time, Whitley made sure of their semi final place when, with the home side pushing forward in a forlorn attempt to force extra time, Bell cut the ball back into the six yard box where the unmarked Kerr side footed the ball home for Whitley’s fourth goal.
Throughout the game, Whitley frustrated Synners by never giving them the time or space to settle on the ball, for which credit is due to every player. It was a hard earned but well deserved and confidence boosting victory, coming just days after the disappointing defeat at Morpeth. It means that Whitley are in the semi final of this competition for the first time since 2002, the year they won the FA Vase.
WHITLEY BAY: McLean, McFarlane, Picton, Robson(Reay 79mins), Coulson, Ryan, Moore, Kerr, Chow(Bone 89mins), Bell, Fawcett(Reid 51mins)