A RESURGENT West Allotment Celtic side proved their mettle on Saturday afternoon by holding league leaders Ryhope Colliery Welfare to an enthralling 2-2 draw on Tyneside.
Celtic entered the contest as heavy underdogs, facing a rampant Ryhope side on a seven-match winning streak.
Despite their opponent’s blistering form, Paul Stoneman opted to stick with the 4-4-2 formation that had served him well in victories over Newcastle Benfield and Thornaby, bringing Kallum McGlen back into the first-team fold.
The visitors probed early on, with clinical striker Chris Winn flashing a shot wide, and Chris Trewick headed over the bar.
However, Allotment refused to be intimidated by the Wearsiders’ early pressure, and began to look dangerous themselves in the final third.
Sean Reid was the first to attack Chris Rookes’ goal, firing an effort wide from range, before Liam Hudson nodded over the bar from a corner.
Having matched Ryhope’s early tempo, the hosts took the lead through one of the league’s most dangerous wingers.
Hudson played in Allotment’s top scorer Dean Lee, and, after a slick one-two with Reid, the wide man slotted low past Rookes into the bottom corner.
Lee was also first on the scoresheet in the last match against Ryhope, but the table-toppers responded almost instantly, and went on to score another six goals.
A worrying sense of déjà vu soon pervaded Whitley Park, as four minutes later, Ryhope were on level terms.
A clumsy challenge from Marc Dummett gifted the visitors a spot kick, which was duly despatched by John Butler.
Thereafter, the two sides were well-matched, and both squandered chances to take the lead.
Butler spearheaded a Ryhope counter-attack, but his effort took deflections off Stoneman and John Pendlebury, bobbling just wide of the goal.
At the other end, Brookes could only parry Sean Reid’s stinging effort, but the Allotment forward miscued the follow-up with the goal at his mercy.
Any hope of a positive result for the home side seemed to dissipate in one bone-crunching moment.
Goalkeeper Aiden Ames fell awkwardly after catching a high ball under pressure, injuring his knee in the process.
With deputy keeper Ryan Beal also sidelined, full-back Dummett had to strap on the goalie gloves.
The stand-in was soon called into action, confidently parrying a long-range free-kick around the post.
Despite the cruel setback, Allotment refused to relent, and continued to play their football in the same vein as before.
They could even have ended the half on top, had Stoneman’s looping header drifted beneath the crossbar.
Frustrated by the tenacity and pressure of the home side, a more aggressive Ryhope emerged from the tunnel for the second half.
Midfielder Michael Charlton blazed the ball over the bar, but the goal was always likely to come from the Wearsiders’ prolific strike duo of Butler and Winn – and it was the latter who put the visitors ahead.
The forward was closed down upon receiving the ball in the penalty area, but found space between three Allotment defenders, squirming the ball beyond Dummett and into the bottom corner.
Despite taking the lead, Ryhope struggled to create any chances against a resolute Allotment defence – and were soon pegged back in spectacular and wholly unexpected fashion.
The ball broke to goal-shy defender John Pendlebury from a corner.
With the majority of the penalty area’s occupants expecting a cross, the right-back decided to go it alone, unleashing an unstoppable drive into the top corner from a full thirty yards.
Thereafter, tensions heated up on and off the pitch.
Manager Swales, having already been dismissed to the stands, had to be removed from the touchline a second time by referee Stephen Whittaker.
The official could have been producing a red card on the field after Ryhope captain Ralph Hall appeared to kick out at Lee off the ball, but instead erred on the side of caution.
With the visitors losing their cool, Allotment dominated the final 20 minutes and could even have taken all of the spoils as the game drew to a close.
Stoneman headed over once more from a set-piece, but Chris Rookes stood between Allotment and three incredible points.
The ever-dangerous Lee made a beeline towards goal, but Ryhope’s keeper closed the angle rapidly, forcing the winger to poke the ball into the side netting.
The Wearsiders had Rookes to thank once again as the game drew to a close.
Allotment hit Ryhope twice on the counter, but the former Chester-le-Street stopper denied both Hudson and substitute David Dormand in one-on-one situations to preserve a point for the league leaders.
On the balance of play, Allotment’s performance more than merited the result.
The steadfast back four worked hard to nullify the league’s two top scorers, whilst an industrious midfield display limited the impact of Ryhope’s midfield.
Celtic are just the third team to take points off the Wearsiders this season, and are on a three-match unbeaten run of their own.
Stoneman and his side will hope to make it four when they take on Whickham at Whitley Park on Wednesday.