|FA Vase Semi-Final 1st Leg||2947|
|Saturday 28th March 2009||Whitley Bay V Lowestoft Town||2-1|
Match Report By Julian Tyley
Whitley are now just one step, albeit a sizeable one, from a first ever appearance at Wembley after a gripping first leg of their FA Vase semi final against Lowestoft Town.
A strong and blustery northerly wind made conditions difficult but the persistent showers of earlier in the day had thankfully given way to brighter skies by kick off.
In front of a bumper crowd of 2907, the biggest at Hillheads in twenty years, Lowestoft, who broke Bay hearts at the same stage of the competition last season, dominated the first half, taking full advantage of the wind at their backs. Indeed, they might have been two goals ahead inside ten minutes. Dale Cockerill was put clear on goal with just five minutes on the clock but Terry Burke raced out to block his shot. Two minutes later a long range free kick from Carl Poppy struck the base of a post and rebounded to safety as Whitley struggled to retain possession against a Lowestoft side that denied them space or time on the ball.
A free kick in a good position for Whitley, some 25 yards out, was struck tamely by Paul Robinson and was easily saved by Andy Reynolds, the keeper who dislocated his hip in last year’s semi final.
With the visitors well on top, Burke needed to be alert and after 18 minutes he did well to punch clear when Reece Hunn sent a dangerous ball into a crowded six yard box. For all their pressure, Lowestoft could not make the breakthrough, with Coulson and Ryan outstanding at the heart of the Bay defence and Burke showing a safe pair of hands in goal.
Play was, at times, scrappy as the wind caused problems for both sides but eventually Whitley hit back and almost scored with their first real attempt on goal, Chris Moore’s first time effort almost dipping under the bar, forcing Reynolds to push the ball over the top at full stretch. Lowestoft’s Jamie Godbold was booked for a foul on Craig McFarlane then as Whitley began to come more into the game, Paul Chow beat Reynolds to a high ball and his header went inches past the post.
Godbold was a constant threat for the visitors on the right and after 36 minutes he cut in but fired his shot high and wide. At the other end, Chris Moore, who had been kept quiet by tight marking, finally broke clear but Picton failed to make clean contact with his cross into the penalty area and the chance was lost.
Just before the interval, Lowestoft, who, despite attractive build up play were becoming restricted to long range efforts, had one more effort off target when Woodrow fired over from some 20 yards out.
With the benefit of the wind, Whitley began to have more of the possession after half time, but the sides were cancelling each other out until Ian Chandler made a crucial tactical change with 55 minutes played. He brought off Robinson and Moore, who had struggled to make an impact, bringing on Phil Bell and former Bay favourite Adam Johnston, who was signed in midweek from Durham City. Changing to a more attacking formation with three up front soon paid dividends as within five minutes Whitley made the vital breakthough. Lee Kerr played a right wing corner deep to the edge of the penalty area and Johnston volleyed the ball into a crowded goalmouth where Paul Chow diverted the shot, heading it high into the net leaving Reynolds stranded.
Just over ten minutes later, a quick break by Whitley saw Chow closing in on goal but he was pulled to the ground by Lowestoft defender Jack Marsden inside the penalty area. The Lowestoft man was booked before Lee Kerr comfortably beat Reynolds from the spot to put Whitley two goals ahead.
Almost immediately, Poppy was shown a straight red card for a dreadful high tackle on Adam Johnston, who needed lengthy treatment before he could resume. It was beginning to look as if Lowestoft were losing their composure as Whitley continued to press forward, urged on by the huge crowd that was packed into the ground. However, Bay players were picking up a series of injuries, McFarlane appearing to suffer from cramp while Phil Bell suddenly pulled up with a back problem and had to be helped from the pitch. When play resumed with Whitley temporarily down to ten men while a substitute was waiting to be allowed on, they briefly and crucially lost their concentration. Lowestoft had been employing the long throw as an attacking ploy all game with out much success, but when the ball was played in from the right, Godbold was left unmarked and from just outside the area he sent a powerful volley beyond Burke to reduce the arrears with just eight minutes left.
Two minutes from time, Whitley were denied what appeared to be a blatant penalty when Lowestoft substitute Marcus Saunders blocked a shot with his arm. To the frustration of the Whitley players and the fans packed behind the goal, and to the surprise of the radio commentators, the referee ignored protests and play was allowed to continue. As the game entered stoppage time, Whitley continued to push forward in an effort to make their one man advantage tell and late sub Darren Reay had a powerful shot saved by Reynolds. Chow just failed to make contact as Whitley forced two corners in quick succession during the five minutes of added on time.
It had been a much improved second half performance by Whitley but in the end they had to be content with a single goal advantage to take down to Suffolk next weekend.
A one goal lead was sufficient seven years ago when they beat Durham City by the same score in the first leg and played out a goal less second leg to earn their place at Villa Park. Whether the same will apply this year remains to be seen but one thing is certain, the tie is finely balanced and both sides will feel they still have a realistic chance of making it to Wembley.
WHITLEY BAY; Burke, Taylor, Picton, McFarlane, Coulson, Ryan, Moore(Bell 55mins)(Reay 82mins), Robson, Kerr, Chow, Robinson(Johnston 55mins)