Lawrence McKenna came back to haunt his old club, his early strike proving enough to see current employers West Allotment Celtic defeat Ryton & Crawcrook Albion in their Northern League Cup tie on Wednesday night.
The forward was one of nine fresh starters in Allotment’s starting line-up, whilst Albion’s 11 included five recent signings, four of which previously hailed from South Shields.
However, it was one of the visitors’ former marksmen that took centre stage within six minutes at Whitley Park, turning Kallum McGlen’s square ball beyond Albion ‘keeper Frazer Nairn.
John Wilson’s men struggled in the opening stages, sitting deep to absorb Allotment’s early pressure, and were almost made to pay for it once more.
Roy Gordon benefitted from Chris Douglas’ tenacious battling, collecting the ball from the full back and unleashing a shot which called Nairn into action.
The central midfielder came close again moments later, another effort from the edge of the area stinging the young ‘keeper’s palms.
In a half of few chances, Ryton’s Michael Watson tested Chris Bannon at the opposite end of the pitch with a curling strike, before Dean Lee failed to turn two half-chances into something more meaningful.
First, the winger was sent through on goal by David Henderson’s slide rule pass, only to be muscled off the ball by the collective efforts of the centre-half and the keeper.
The 30-year-old was the intended target of another fine ball, this time from Kallum McGlen, but he could only head it wide at the back post.
As the game limped towards the interval, a loose ball from John Pendlebury allowed the dangerous Paul Basey a brief glimpse of goal.
The winger let fly from outside the area, denied with consummate ease by Celtic’s reliable stopper.
Allotment had taken the narrowest of advantages into half-time in the past two games, only to surrender that lead within minutes of the restart on both occasions – and the hosts set about making sure that did not happen.
Marc Dummett’s in-swinging corners caused brief moments of panic in the Ryton area, before a set-piece from counterpart Chris Douglas made its way to Kallum McGlen, who blazed his close-range volley metres over the bar.
A Douglas effort from range and an off-target header from the returning Stephen Little failed to unduly trouble Nairn in Albion’s goal, but McKenna could have doubled his tally – or, at the very least, doubled Allotment’s advantage.
McGlen made threatening inroads from the right, off-loading the ball to the striker and continuing his run, but the game’s only scorer chose to go it alone, failing to beat Nairn with a shot on the turn.
The home side went on to spurn further chances to put the game to bed.
Pendlebury’s far-post header was cleared back in his direction, but the makeshift centre half laced his second attempt into the side netting.
The introduction of Sean Reid and Liam Hudson gave Celtic added impetus in attack – and the latter fashioned two key opportunities in almost as many minutes.
The attacker’s flashed ball across goal found Lee at the back post, but he chose to ignore the well-placed McKenna, cutting inside and firing wide instead of laying it off for a simple tap-in.
Lee and Hudson’s roles were soon reversed, with the substitute getting on the end of the former’s cross.
His skewed miskick came back across the box, where Reid sliced wide in similar fashion.
The late surge that Allotment so often dread was soon forthcoming, and it briefly looked as though the visitors would take the game into extra-time.
Bannon had to be alert to parry an effort from distance, before making another brave stop at close range, keeping out Shaun Edwards’ near-post finish.
Ryton belatedly committed bodies forward in an attempt to keep their cup hopes alive, but Isaac Cork fired just wide of Bannon’s far post, before Basey blazed over, following a neat lay-off from within the box.
Ultimately, the game’s first chance remained the only one that was converted in a flat and often torrid affair.
That said, Allotment were still decent value for the victory, keeping a rare clean sheet, and progressing to the second round of the competition in the process.