West Allotment Celtic are within one point of securing promotion to the Northern League’s top tier after returning from fellow promotion contenders Jarrow Roofing with three priceless points on Saturday afternoon.
The Roofers started on the front foot, pinning Allotment in their own third, but only had a wayward Stevie Graham free kick to show for their efforts.
However, after a nervy opening, Paul Stoneman’s men regained their composure, and set about playing the brand of football that has propelled them towards the top end of the table.
Sean Reid threatened for the first time after 12 minutes, the ball nicked behind when in on goal and the club’s top scorer headed wide from the resulting corner.
Allotment’s club captain Ian Dunn, better known for his tenacious tackling deep in midfield, was next to miss the target, failing to add to his six goals with an errant strike from range.
However, his midfield did an exceptional job of shackling the Roofers’ creative forces in the middle of the park, not least ex-Celtic midfield man Paul Gardiner.
Nevertheless, with a prolific forward line, the hosts always had the personnel to cause problems, and McBryde reminded the Allotment defence of the danger he posed.
The ‘Hitman’ shrugged off three challenges on route to the penalty area, with only the timely intervention of John Pendlebury preventing the 27-year-old from catching a clear sight of goal.
Thereafter, the green and white hoops were very much in the ascendancy.
Reid saw his route to goal blocked by the Roofing back four, before Liam Hudson found enough space to curl towards goal only for keeper Andy Hunter to save and hold well.
He should have been tested once more within minutes as Allotment almost capitalised on uncertainty within the back four.
Full back Jamie Marshall dwelled on possession towards his own box, affording David Henderson the chance to apply pressure on the ball. It broke kindly to Michael Bell, who should have put Celtic ahead, instead powering his shot narrowly wide of the far post.
Fortunately, it mattered little as Allotment took the lead five minutes shy of the half hour.
Marc Dummett’s corner was headed back into the mix by Pendlebury, where fellow defender Stephen Little got up to help the ball past Hunter and into the back of the net.
Within seven minutes, an increasingly confident Allotment had doubled their advantage.
Bell linked up well with the impressive Pendlebury down the right flank, the latter reaching the byline and flashing a fine delivery towards the box. Hudson drifted inside unnoticed from the opposite wing, getting in front of his defensive counterpart to nod in from close range.
Stung by the second goal, Jarrow Roofing came close to hitting back.
A whipped ball from Young on the right flashed across the six-yard box and looked destined to find attacking team-mate Appleby only for the impressive Pendlebury to head clear when the striker seemed poised to score.
As the half drew to a close, Celtic were back on the front foot and could have put the result beyond reasonable doubt before the break.
Nolan bobbed and weaved past three Roofing defenders before firing towards goal, Hunter parrying away once more.
Midfield maestro Henderson was next to create problems for the hosts, getting pulled back by Graham as he strode into the box. When the referee’s whistle sounded, the expected penalty was not awarded as the infraction was deemed to have begun outside of the area – much to the dismay of the Allotment faithful.
Nevertheless, it presented Dummett with the chance to angle a fine free kick towards the top corner, tipped away expertly by the in-form Hunter.
Celtic had surrendered a two-goal lead in the reverse fixture in November and were determined to avoid a repeat when the game restarted.
Dropping deeper in anticipation of Roofing’s attacking salvos, opportunities were markedly limited.
Appleby volleyed harmlessly wide in acrobatic fashion, but could not break down the most resolute of back fours.
McLoughlin rolled the dice from the bench, bringing on Dan Reeves and Shaun Heads, and the freshly introduced pair went closest for the home side.
First, Allotment’s player-manager flung himself in front of Reeves’ venomous shot from 20-yards, with Dan Kirkup nodding up onto the roof of the net from the corner.
Despite Roofing’s attackers notching up 74 goals between them over the course of the campaign, it was Heads, brought on at left back, who came closest to hauling his side back into it, unleashing a spectacular drive from distance that stung Beal’s fingertips on its way over.
Reid was next to put his body on the line, keeping a fierce drive away from goal with his frame as the hosts pressed to little avail.
As the clock ran down, the increasingly desperate Roofers lofted the ball into Allotment’s third, but the centre half pairing of Stoneman and Little rarely looked like being breached, both defenders faultless at the back.
Further up the park, Dunn put in the kind of performance expected of a captain, tirelessly shutting down wave after wave of attack, whilst Bell offered the besieged Celtic an indomitable outlet in the air, winning more than his fair share of vital aerial challenges.
The impressive Reid and goalscorer Hudson both made way for Dean Lee and Tony Lancaster in the closing stages, where the Roofers’ best chance of a goal inadvertently came off the boot of the opposition’s player-manager.
Miscommunication between Beal and Stoneman in the aftermath of a corner led to a hasty clearance attempt, the veteran centre half inadvertently slicing over his own keeper – and his own crossbar, much to the relief of the travelling contingent.
Any hope of Jarrow Roofing staging a remarkable comeback dissipated in the face of Celtic’s stubborn resilience, and the visitors could have rubbed salt into the wounds with a third goal.
Hunter’s fluffed clearance dropped straight at the feet of Nolan, but the hard-running forward’s effort was tame, allowing the keeper to spare his own blushes with a routine save.
The hard-fought victory was the result of a fine performance from West Allotment, one which served as the embodiment of their league campaign; gutsy, passionate and not without quality.
Seaham’s late win away at Birtley put the promotion party on hold, with Allotment requiring a draw in one of their final three games to seal ascendancy into division one.
Celtic will hope to do just that in front of their own fans next week, when they host a rampant Washington side at Whitley Park.