WHITLEY BAY       3          BARWELL    2      (AGGREGATE SCORE  6-5)

Saturday 3rd April 2010

Whitley Bay are on their way to Wembley – again – following an emotional roller coaster ride in showery conditions at Hillheads.

So often this season, Ian Chandler’s team have produced dramatic, nail biting entertainment and so it was again in the FA Vase Semi Final Second Leg, a game that saw five goals, two penalties, a man sent off and the winning goal coming in stoppage time. With this sort of excitement now common place at Hillheads, it is little wonder that a huge crowd of over 2700 fans flocked to see if Whitley could earn their place at Wembley for a second successive season. Barwell, their opponents from Leicestershire, making their first appearance at this stage of the competition, boasted an impressive unbeaten Midland Alliance League record having conceded a mere five goals in 17 away games.

The 3-3 draw at Barwell in the first leg meant that this was a winner-takes-all encounter with the glittering prize being a trip to Wembley. Whitley’s build up to the game had been hampered by injury to two key players. Captain and key central defender David Coulson, who was injured in the game at Barwell, was unfit and his place went to Darren Timmons, himself just recovering from injury. Phil Bell, who was many people’s choice for man of the match at Barwell, was suffering from a knee injury and has been ruled out for several weeks. In his place came youngster Josh Gillies, while Paul Chow started in place of Lee Kerr.

A torrential downpour fifteen minutes before kick off made conditions difficult, with puddles lying on parts of the pitch with the surface very soft and slippery.

Whitley got off to the worst possible start, conceding possession straight from the kick off. The dangerous Adam Cunnington, identified in the first leg as a major threat to Whitley, raced down the right and Kevin Charley drilled his cross into the net over Terry Burke with less than 20 seconds on the clock.

Rain was still falling and the conditions were making life very difficult for defenders, not to mention the majority of the spectators. Whitley were doing most of the attacking and with just over eight minutes played, Paul Robinson’s accurate through ball reached Adam Johnston on the edge of the penalty area. As he took the ball into the box he was tripped and the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty. Johnston took the kick himself and his perfectly placed shot just inside the post comfortably beat the dive of Liam Castle in the Barwell goal to level the score. Moments later, Barwell defender Adam Knibb was cautioned for a badly misjudged tackle on Chris Fawcett as the Bay winger was about to race away down the right.

Whitley were getting on top and just four minutes after the equaliser, they went in front. The conditions played their part as Richard Hodgson tore through from midfield, jinking past several defenders who preferred not risk a mistimed challenge. About 15 yards out he fired a shot that skidded off the surface past the sprawling Castle and flew into the net just inside the far post. Suddenly the game had been turned on its head and after an anxious start Whitley were in the driving seat. The weather reflected the mood among the Bay players and fans, with the sun now shining brightly. Adam Johnston crashed a shot off the post and Castle gratefully pushed it behind, then Fawcett’s cross from the right skimmed inches wide of the far post ahead of the onrushing Johnston.

Barwell retaliated on the counter attack with Charley bringing a great save from Burke, who pushed a shot over the bar. Eight minutes before the break Barwell were reduced to ten men after Knibbs again mistimed a tackle on Fawcett and was shown a second yellow card. Half time arrived with Whitley looking the better side but with only one goal in it, the tie was far from over.

Early in the second half Robinson and Hodgson had shots off target, but both were proving more influential than in the first leg. Liam McDonald and substitute Nigel Julien both went close for Barwell, while Francis was denied by a great save from the ever agile Burke, and then at the other end Hodgson was only just off target from Johnston’s through ball. Despite being a man short, Barwell were well in the game and they got back on terms after 69 minutes. After Burke palmed an effort from Charley over the bar, Chris Reid was penalised for a push when the corner was played into the box, the referee awarding a penalty which Charley comfortably converted.

Lee Kerr was brought on in place of Gillies for the last 20 minutes and with the muddy conditions testing the fitness of both sides, the fresh legs gave Whitley extra impetus.

Whitley’s cause was not helped when eleven minutes from time, Chris Fawcett pulled up with a calf injury. Fortunately Whitley had an able substitute in Callum Anderson but Fawcett’s pace would be missed on the wing. Two minutes later, Leon Ryan so nearly put Whitley back in front with a powerful header that was in turn headed off the line thanks to courageous defending.

Two minutes from time, in another quick break upfield, Barwell sub Jamie Towers drilled the ball into the net past Burke but the celebrations of the visiting fans and the groans from other parts of the ground were cut short by an offside flag which had been raised as Towers was played clear.

Extra time was looming when with more than a minute of stoppage time already played, the tireless Adam Johnston moved forward down the right, looked up and carefully played the ball back across goal where Paul Robinson raced in to plant a diving header into the net beyond Castle. Hillheads erupted, Robinson did a dance of delight across the pitch before being submerged under a sea of blue shirts, and the Barwell players sank to their knees in despair.

In the two remaining minutes, the Leicestershire side threw everyone forward but to little effect with Leon Ryan leading by example and marshalling the defence superbly.

The final whistle was the signal for a pitch invasion by hundreds of euphoric Bay fans who sang and celebrated on the pitch with their muddied heroes. Whitley’s two previous semi final victories were celebrated on away territory but this was now an opportunity for joyous scenes at Hillheads with more than 2500 fans enjoying the occasion.

In marked contrast, for the distraught Barwell players there was the bitter experience that Whitley felt at Hillheads two years ago when Lowestoft edged the semi final.

WHITLEY BAY: Burke, McFarlane, Fawcett(Anderson 79mins), Hodgson, Timmons(Reid 59mins), Ryan, Gillies(Kerr 69mins), Robson, Johnston, Chow, Robinson

Substitutes not used: Kindley, Waite