DESPITE going into their FA Cup extra preliminary round fixture as underdogs, West Allotment Celtic battled bravely against back-to-back Northern League champions Spennymoor Town before succumbing to a respectable 3-0 defeat.
Paul Stoneman’s side travelled to Brewery Field without a number of key names, with Marc Dummett, Michael Bell and the injured Liam Hudson amongst the notable absentees.
By contrast, formidable opponents Spennymoor could afford to rotate their squad, handing starts to Leon Ryan, Neal Hooks and the dangerous Craig Ruddy.
The Moors thumped their previous opponents by six goals in midweek, and the travelling fans may have feared a repeat performance when Mark Davison found the back of the net three minutes in.
The free-scoring forward received the ball on the edge of the area after good work from Ruddy on the right flank, before curling the ball beyond Aiden Ames to the delight of the bumper crowd.
Despite the setback, Allotment worked hard to prevent the floodgates from opening.
Another Davison effort was comfortably gathered by Ames, whilst Simon Wilthew had to be alert to prevent Gavin Cogdon from scoring.
The home side lived up to their fearsome reputation, looking assured in possession and flashing dangerous balls across the box.
The champions’ incessant pressure unsettled the away side, but it was an uncharacteristic error from the favourites that led to Allotment’s first chance of the afternoon.
A stray pass from full back Chris Mason fell to Tony Lancaster, but, after working hard to create space to shoot, his effort was saved by Robert Dean.
Despite dominating with their impressive brand of passing football, the scoreline remained close, and Allotment demonstrated that they had players capable of threatening on the break.
In-form winger Dean Lee surged forward on a solo run, warding off three markers and firing wide of the mark.
However, chances were few and far between for Allotment, who had their defence to thank for keeping them in the game at half-time.
Stoneman and Little put in a number of important blocks, whilst Ames made two fine stops to deny Ryan and Anthony Peacock.
Any hopes of Allotment snatching an unlikely equaliser were extinguished eight minutes after the restart by the introduction of Glen Taylor.
Cogdon managed to lose his marker in the area and squared the ball for the substitute, who scored with his first touch.
West Allotment responded well, with Lee and McGlen looking to cause problems down the flanks before captain Ian Dunn fired a shot wide.
Despite the positive period of play, Spennymoor ended the game as a contest with a controversial third, scored by another super-sub.
Stoneman went to ground after a collision, but the referee allowed play to continue and Andrew Stephenson tapped in from the resulting move.
The experienced centre-half had to be carried from the pitch, sporting an unsightly gash on his leg.
Without their player-manager out, it became a case of damage limitation for Allotment.
Replacement Shaun Quinn was called into action immediately, his last-ditch challenge preventing Spennymoor from extending their lead.
Minutes later, the away side came tantalisingly close to grabbing a deserved consolation. Andrew Charlton’s wicked in-swinging ball was a mere inches away from being met by the head of Sean Reid.
However, Spennymoor continued to dominate possession, and would have had a fourth in the final 15 minutes were it not for the sharp reflexes of Ames.
The Celtic keeper got down well to stop a low Hooks drive at his near post, and did well to keep out a fizzing Stephenson half-volley minutes later.
Recalled defender Stephen Little made a vital interception in the six-yard area, but Allotment had their goalkeeper to thank for the modest scoreline as Ames pulled off impressive saves in stoppage time.
West Allotment were outclassed but far from humbled by a side renowned for their attacking nous.
The FA Cup journey may be at an end, but another potential cup run beckons for Celtic.
The FA Vase campaign kicks off this Saturday with a home tie against West Yorkshire club Thackley FC.