No Wembley repeat as Bay get their revenge
Michael Bailey Lowestoft Town 1, Whitley Bay 1 (Whitley win 3-2 on aggregate): Football managers regularly find themselves appealing for things to even out over a season, be it decisions, luck or performances. But what is often overlooked is that for every positive yin, there will be a negative yang lurking for someone else - and Crown Meadow on Saturday was all about the yang.
Football managers regularly find themselves appealing for things to even out over a season, be it decisions, luck or performances.
But what is often overlooked is that for every positive yin, there will be a negative yang lurking for someone else - and Crown Meadow on Saturday was all about the yang.
Firstly, you need the context of Lowestoft and Whitley's FA Vase semi-final past.
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The first leg at Hillheads seven days ago saw Town blast out of the blocks with some flowing football before Bay trumped that by putting the ball in the net, twice.
Then there was Carl Poppy's sending off; a 50-50 challenge he and Whitley substitute Adam Johnston dived into. Roars from the Hillheads crowd and protests from the home bench and players were enough to see the referee produce a harsh red card.
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And all this before Jamie Godbold volleyed home from 15 yards late on to score a goal which had fans reminiscing about his vital contribution to last year's encounter, when he hit Town's decisive fourth at Crown Meadow.
Those two dramatic Vase semi-final matches last season are also relevant to Saturday's action - two games in which Lowestoft did enough to book their place at Wembley in the north east, invading Hillheads with unrestricted joy and turning Whitley into a part of Lowestoft for a few brief but joyous moments.
So the scene was set on Saturday as a 2,250 capacity crowd packed expectantly into Crown Meadow, hoping for history to repeat itself with another Wembley appearance for the Trawlerboys.
And the beautifully sunny afternoon started perfectly. Before any hint of how both teams we settling, Lowestoft levelled things on aggregate, 2-2 - a minute later than Town's first leg opener at Crown Meadow last season.
Jack Marsden's fifth minute free-kick floated in to Russell Stock and his header in the six yard box brought an exemplary piece of 'how not to' defend from Bay striker Phil Bell. His attempts to side-foot the ball out for a corner merely ended up cannoning off Blues captain Darren Cockrill and Crown Meadow erupted at the thought of another fantastic day at Wembley.
We will never know what part the early goal played in the rest of Lowestoft's performance, but the evidence is not pretty.
Adam Johnston drew an excellent one-armed stop from goalkeeper Andy Reynolds, and Leon Ryan should have done better with a free header before the defender made no mistake 14 minutes in, as his bullet header from Lee Kerr's corner left Reynolds with no chance.
But the defining moment should have happened 13 minutes later.
Kerr's sending off; a 50-50 challenge he and Lowestoft midfielder Godbold dived into. Roars from the Crown Meadow crowd and protests from the home bench and players were enough to see the referee produce a harsh red card - yang number one, and another parallel to last season's clash at Crown Meadow, albeit a little later.
With the prospect of an hour's football against 10 men, surely history would repeat itself?
Gary McGee clipped the crossbar with a penalty box lunge as Lowestoft finally strung a decent move together before the break, but it soon became clear the Trawlerboys were struggling to find any movement and invention.
It also became difficult to remember Whitley were a man down as they harried, pressed and broke to good effect all afternoon, and Ryan should have put the tie beyond Town but he somehow blasting wide from six yards when he looked certain to score.
The visitors visibly grew in confidence and belief the longer the game went on - yang number two, based on Lowestoft's supreme effort in repelling Bay at Hillheads 12 months ago.
Substitute Chris Fawcett should have done better when through on goal, McFarlane and Chow were denied by some last-ditch Town defending, before the dying moments brought some prolonged home pressure.
Russell Stock drove over after Bradley Hough made his presence felt; Darren Cockrill repeated the trick from Stock's flick, all before Richard Woodrow tickled the crossbar with a desperate 20-yarder.
But the ultimate yang came after four tense minutes of injury time.
This season's Vase semi-final did football's balancing forces proud. Two games in which Whitley Bay did enough to book their place at Wembley in Suffolk, invading Crown Meadow with unrestricted joy and turning Lowestoft into a part of the north east for a few brief but joyous moments.
For Lowestoft Town, the Vase has proved that things do indeed even themselves out.