Whitley Bay will be flying the flag for the north east of England when they take on Chorley at Hillheads in the 3rd Qualifying Round of the Emirates FA Cup.
Whitley are the last surviving Northern League team in the competition and with Blyth Spartans, Spennymoor and Darlington having already fallen by the wayside, Paddy Atkinsonís men carry the hopes of the entire region this weekend. It is a situation that few Bay fans would have anticipated at the start of the season but the upturn in form is breeding a renewed sense of optimism throughout the club.
With no Premier League action due to the International break, Whitley are hoping that fans of Newcastle and Sunderland will help to swell what is expected to be a bumper crowd for the areaís undisputed match of the day.
Whitley are currently unbeaten in nine games, their most successful run in three years, but Chorley will provide their toughest test of the season to date and come into the game as strong favourites. The Lancashire side, managed by former Premier League striker Matt Jansen, are lying ninth in the Vanamara National League North, which is three divisions above the Northern League, making this contest the equivalent of a League Two side taking on Premier League opposition. However, Whitley have already overcome Matlock, who are just one division below Chorley and will go into the game in confident mood.
New signing Michael Bell is cup tied, having featured for Ashington in the earlier stages of the competition while 18 year old Robbie Williamson also misses the game as he completes a three match suspension. However, top scorer Adam Shanks is available again, and manager Atkinson is hopeful that captain Michael Laws, who has missed the last two games though injury will be fit for selection along with midfielder Sam Norris.
The winners will progress to the final qualifying round, just 90 minutes away from a possible televised game against Football League opposition.
In the event of a draw, the replay will take place at Chorley on Tuesday evening, kick off 7.45pm. If the game is decided on Saturday, Whitley will be at home to top of the table Shildon on Tuesday in their first league game since their memorable victory at North Shields three weeks ago.