Birtley started 2024 with a bang as The Hoops produced a sublime display to run out 5-1 winners against Whitley Bay.
Goals from Stephen Hall, Matthew Ward (x2), Alex Francis and Glen Hargrave secured a fabulous away win at Hillheads Park. Birtley named an unchanged side from the team that drew 3-3 with Crook Town.
Birtley made a frantic start to the game with Callum Smith having an early effort from the edge of the area after good work from Scott Heslop. Smith’s effort sailed over the crossbar but their early chances did not stop there as Owen Lancaster and Stephen Hall both had efforts on goal. An outstanding tackle from Scott Lowery prevented James Proctor from scoring shortly after.
Birtley had their rewards on 18 minutes. Liam Wotherspoon linked with Heslop before playing a delightful through ball for Stephen Hall. Hally rounded the oncoming Graeme Pickering and slotted into the far left-hand corner.
Birtley doubled their lead just four minutes later. A set play ended up at the far post with Callum Smith and he looked destined to shoot, but instead he cushioned the ball to the in-form Matthew Ward who smashed it into the Whitley Bay net. The second goal sparked life into the home side with strong challenges from Andrew Cartwright, James McGeorge and Jamie Holmes all resulting in yellow cards. A brilliant double block from Alex Francis denied Gilchrist with a goal scoring opportunity at the other end before Liam Wotherspoon was also booked for a slow retreat.
Whitley had responded by the half-hour mark with Gilchrist hitting the post and a Lowery lob going inches wide. The pressure eventually paying off when James McGeorge pulled a goal back for The Seahorses in the 33rd minute.
HALF TIME | Whitley Bay 1 – 2 Birtley Town
The second half started an even affair before the hosts started to probe for an equaliser. Josh Gilchrist got his bearings all wrong when he fired wide from around 10 yards out. Shortly after, Alfie Gordon denied Bay from a set piece and Sam Hedley superbly cleared McGeorge’s effort off the line.
The game took another turn when McGeorge was shown a red card for a second bookable offence despite protests from the hosts. The second yellow card looked to be justified from our view point but Whitley certainly had reason to feel aggrieved when a penalty was awarded to Birtley on 70 minutes. Owen Lancaster had won the ball with a brilliant challenge before carrying the ball into the Whitley box. He took a tumble under what looked like minimal contact and the referee pointed to the spot. Alex Francis stepping up to score his 7th goal of the season.
Birtley looked in full control at this point and shortly after extended their lead. Matthew Ward firing a ferocious right-footed drive that cannoned off the far post and into the net. Ward’s second of the evening was his fifth goal in his last three appearances.
The night was completed in the 82 minute. Ward again drove deep into Whitley territory and when he looked like he was destined for his hat-trick, he coolly slotted the ball to Glen Hargrave who made no mistake with the finish to score Birtley’s fifth and his ninth of the season.
FULL TIME | Whitley Bay 1 – 5 Birtley Town
Paul Bryson was delighted with an excellent away win. “I was delighted with the performance and the result. We started really well, we were right up for the game and occasion. We scored a great goal to go 1-0 up through Hally and Wardy made it 2-0. Whitley Bay then had a spell when they scored. I was a bit disappointed with the goal we conceded but I think we reacted well. Once we had conceded, we got together to make sure we came in at half-time deservedly leading 2-1.
The second half started fairly even. Wardy had a chance that grazed the woodwork. The biggest turning point of the game was Hed’s clearance off the line, it was as good as scoring a goal. That kept the game at 2-1 before they got a lad sent off for a second yellow card.
There were a lot of bookings but I didn’t think there was a bad challenge in the game. We extended our lead through Alex. Wardy then scored a superb goal by cutting inside and hitting one with his right foot that went in off the inside of the post. Then he was really unselfish to slot Glen in who made it five”.
“Overall, we are delighted. We were creative, looked threatening and scored goals. I think one of the most pleasing things was that when Whitley Bay were having a strong spell, we were strong and stuck together. All good sides will always have a spell during the game but we were hard to play through and really well disciplined. That was a big credit to the lads. We are on a nice little run and hopefully we can take that into Saturday’s game.”
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Birtley host West Auckland on Saturday in a 1pm kick-off.