FA VASE FINAL
WHITLEY BAY 6 WROXHAM 1
A magnificent record breaking performance by Whitley Bay brought the FA Vase back to Hillheads for a second successive season after they crushed Wroxham at Wembley on Sunday.
The side from the Norfolk Broads went into the game confident of upsetting the odds but their hopes were shaken after just 21 seconds. That was how long it took for Paul Chow to head Whitley in front, creating the first of a series of records with the fastest goal ever scored at the famous Wembley Stadium. By the end of the game, Whitley had scored six goals, an astonishing total in any cup final, and more than any side has ever achieved in an FA Vase Final. In the process they also recorded the biggest winning margin ever in the Final of this competition. It was also the first time a side had retained the trophy since 1999 and their victory made them only the second team ever to win the Vase three times.
Whitley’s preparations for the big day suffered a serious blow less than 24 hours before kick off when winger Chris Fawcett pulled a hamstring during a training session at Watford, close to their London hotel. This was countered to some extent by both of Whitley’s main injury doubts Craig McFarlane and Darren Timmons being declared fit and making the starting line up. Perhaps the surprise omission was Phil Bell, who like last year had to be content with a place on the bench. Terry Burke meanwhile was making his 400th appearance for Whitley, comfortably a Club record for a goalkeeper.
On a cool and cloudy afternoon, Whitley kicked off and within seconds, Leon Ryan played a long ball upfield. Hesitancy in the Wroxham defence allowed Paul Chow to get in behind the last defender and nod the ball over keeper Scott Howie and into the net for a sensational opening goal with just 21 seconds on the clock.
Wroxham responded well and just two minutes later it needed a timely tackle by Ryan to deny them a shot on goal. The action was coming thick and fast and with six minutes played, Hodgson’s corner was met by Ryan’s unchallenged header but the ball was directed straight at Howie.
The Norfolk side equalised after 12 minutes following a free kick from the right when Paul Cook beat Timmons to a header and after Burke had only managed to block the effort, Cook reacted quickly to poke home the rebound.
Both sides were playing attacking football and Whitley were soon back in front although there was an element of fortune about the goal. It came after a foul by Gilmore on Callum Anderson as the youngster attacked down the right. Richard Hodgson floated the free kick across the face of goal towards the back post where Wroxham defender Andy Easthaugh stuck out a foot but only succeeded in putting the ball into his own net, despite the desperate efforts of a team mate to keep it out.
After this opening flurry of goals, the game settled down somewhat but just before the half hour an opportunist lob by Lee Kerr from almost 30 yards out just cleared the Wroxham bar. Johnston from out on the left had a shot blocked but Kerr drove the rebound over the bar in another Whitley attack. The Yachtsmen were enjoying their share of possession and the pace of Spriggs in particular was stretching the Bay defence and on more than one occasion, Burke had to punch the ball clear, not always convincingly, when under pressure. Right on half time Whitley had a great chance to increase their lead but Howie saved well, pushing Chow’s header over the bar from Hodgson’s corner. An unfortunate clash of heads involving two Wroxham players resulted in key defender Martin McNeil having to be replaced at half time.
The next goal was always likely to prove crucial and Whitley attacked straight from the resumption. As in the first half they caught their opponents cold when Burke’s long kick downfield reached Johnston, whose neat flick set Lee Kerr away on the right. He cut the ball back in front of a defender to give himself an angle on goal before curling a superb shot beyond Howie into the far corner of the net to give Whitley a two goal lead.
Wroxham looked stunned while Whitley began to exude confidence with Paul Robinson playing a more influential role than in the first half. The Eastern Counties side were missing McNeil’s strength in defence and were now obliged to push players forward in an effort to get back in the game. As a result they left gaps which Whitley began to exploit. When Kerr played the ball through to Robinson, Whitley’s semi final hero saw his shot pushed over the bar. The corner was only partially cleared and when it was played back towards goal by Ryan, Chow turned and fired in a shot that was pushed wide by Howie but Adam Johnston pounced on the loose ball, firing it home from just beyond the far post to put Whitley into what was surely an unassailable 4-1 lead.
Moments later, with 30 minutes still to play, Chow was substituted, with Phil Bell taking his place. Chow received a tumultuous reception from the Whitley fans when he left the field and he was later named man of the match.
Wroxham wasted a golden opportunity to reduce the arrears six minutes later when substitute Ross Durrant headed wide of goal from close range but it was increasingly the yellow shirts of Whitley who were pouring forward. Kerr played Robinson through on goal but he was denied a clear shot by alert goalkeeping from Howie. Robinson then burst through but was booked after going down inside the penalty area. Phil Bell then broke away down the right from the half way line but despite having Robson and Robinson up in support, he chose to go it alone and drilled a 15 yard shot inches wide of the far post.
Wroxham were visibly tiring in the closing stages and Robinson added Whitley’s fifth in the 88th minute when he broke through and fired a shot from the edge of the penalty area that flew beyond the reach of Howie into the far corner of the net.
Just as the game was entering stoppage time substitute Josh Gillies raced into the penalty area and played a one two with Kerr, whose delicate back heel was smashed home by Gillies from 15 yards to send the Whitley end of the stadium wild with delight.
Gillies was the fifth Whitley player to get on the score sheet, a fact which illustrated the extent to which every Bay player contributed hugely to the victory.
While Chow gained the man of the match award, there were many others who were outstanding on the day, including Callum Anderson, Craig McFarlane, Leon Ryan and Damon Robson, to name just four.
At the final whistle, emotional scenes followed when Mark Taylor, who played at Wembley last year but has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, was helped up to Royal Box to receive the FA Vase along with captain Leon Ryan – a memorable conclusion to an historic day for Whitley Bay Football Club.
WHITLEY BAY: Burke, McFarlane, Anderson, Hodgson, (Picton 69mins),Timmons, Ryan, Johnston(Gillies 77mins), Robson, Kerr, Chow(Bell 61mins), Robinson
Substitutes not used: Kindley, Reid
Cautions: Robinson, McFarlane
Referee: A Taylor(Cheshire)