Tomorrow evening Whitley make the seven mile journey along the Coast Road to face local rivals Newcastle Benfield in the semi final of the Mitre Brooks Mileson Memorial Northern League Cup.
The outcome of a local derby is always difficult to predict but this is a particularly intriguing cup tie with both sides having experienced mixed fortunes this season and both having had three different managers. The two league games between the sides were played early in the season and at Sam Smith’s Park, Andy Gowens’ Bay side crushed Mark Convery’s Benfield 6-1 just three days before Whitley’s FA Cup victory over Whitby Town. Just over a month later, in Tom Wade’s first game back in charge for the visitors, the sides battled out an exciting 3-3 draw at Hillheads.
Since then, one of the few bright features of Whitley’s season has been their progress in the League Cup, an exciting derby win over North Shields being followed by two hard fought away victories. Despite another change of manager, Benfield have retained their place in the top half of the table and are currently in 9th position.
Whitley’s form has improved dramatically in the last few weeks since the appointment of Nathan Haslam, a draw being followed by three consecutive victories, which has seen them climb to 12th position.
The road to the semi finals has been a contrasting one for the two clubs. In all three rounds Benfield have been drawn against Second Division opponents, while Whitley have faced First Division sides on each occasion. The results have been as follows:
Newcastle Benfield – Birtley (h) 2-0; West Allotment (a) 3-0; Chester-Le-Street (a) 6-1
Whitley Bay – North Shields (h) 2-0 ; Ryhope CW (a) 3-1; Newton Aycliffe (a) 2-1
Speaking after Saturday’s victory over Consett, Nathan Haslam said the semi final was a game he and the squad were really looking forward to and they would be ready for the challenge and prepared for every eventuality.
The game will have added significance for defender Craig McFarlane, who is set to make his 350th appearance for the club, just the ninth player in the club’s history to reach this landmark.
If the scores are level after 90 minutes, the game will go straight to penalties and the winners will face either Stockton Town or West Auckland Town, whose semi final is being played on Teesside. Kick off at Sam Smith’s Park is at 7.30pm.