Despite threatening to mount a remarkable second-half comeback, West Allotment Celtic saw their FA Vase journey end at the First Round, going down 4-2 to North West Counties side Runcorn Town at Whitley Park.
A positive result looked highly unlikely at half-time as Town stormed into a three-goal lead, but two Sean Reid strikes put Allotment within touching distance of a dramatic leveller. That almost came from the spot 10 minutes from time, but Reid’s saved penalty preceded a breakaway fourth in stoppage time.
The visitors’ number nine Sean Breen should have put them ahead in the first two minutes, denied by the onrushing Daniel Mullen, and a block seconds later kept Chris Dykes from giving Town the early advantage.
Celtic’s number two, recently signed from Alnwick Town, was the only obstacle standing between Runcorn Town and a healthy lead. He followed up a fine save from Jonathan Dawson with a less convincing stop, spilling Daniel Toone’s free kick into the path of Paul Shanley. Marc Dummett was there fractionally ahead of the dangerous forward, but forced his own keeper to parry his misdirected clearance. Neither could prevent Shanley from getting a shot away at the second time of asking, but the woodwork came to Allotment’s rescue.
Allotment had a couple of half-chances, Stuart Plant comfortably saving from Liam Hudson and watching another strike from Bell fly over his crossbar. Sean Reid came close from Hudson’s lay-off, rifling a volley past the far post on the 21st minute, and stung the palms of Plant with a fine free kick from thirty yards. Despite the increasing threat in attack, the home side still looked susceptible to the lofted ball over the top, and it proved to be their undoing moments later. A floated pass down the left flank found Shanley in behind the defence, Town’s top scorer checking inside John Pendlebury and sweeping in underneath Mullen’s body.
Mullen had to be at full stretch to tip Scott Beckett’s vicious attempt over the bar, but could do nothing to prevent the second. Once again, Allotment’s defence was breached down the same flank in the same manner, this time by Jonathan Dawson. The wideman squared across goal for Dykes to finish with aplomb.
David Dormand came within inches of halving arrears, heading Hudson’s cross marginally wide of Plant’s post, but a third from Town all but killed off any lingering hope of a comeback. A fine reverse pass from Beckett played in Breen, the forward making no mistake with his tidy finish.
The visitors showed no sign of letting up when play resumed, Dawson shooting off target and Breen forcing yet another save from Mullen. Sean Reid hauled the hosts back into the tie, thumping home a first-time shot from the edge of the area.
At 3-1, Runcorn Town looked unmistakably rattled. Pendlebury and Michael Bell both fired over the bar as Allotment turned the screw. Unlike his counterpart, Plant had only been forced into action on one or two occasions, but had to be at his very best to deny Bell an inevitable second, a spectacular reflex save denying the midfielder.
Reid nodded the following corner wide, but the dynamo grabbed the goal that he and his side deserved from a set-piece of his own. Fouled on the edge of the box, the 22-year-old drilled the free kick under the wall and beyond Plant, instilling a sense of genuine belief on and off the field.
With just 10 minutes remaining, David Dormand jumped to control a high ball into the area and was barged from behind by a Town defender, giving the referee little choice but to point to the spot. Up stepped Reid to complete his hat-trick, but the goalkeeper guessed correctly, hurling himself to his left to push away the penalty.
Dawson streaked beyond Pendlebury, only this time he made no mistake with his finish, sending the away contingent home happy.