Sean Reid’s 33rd goal of the season sealed West Allotment Celtic’s promotion to division one of the Northern League.
His header was ultimately the difference against a dangerous Washington side at Whitley Park.
Allotment headed into their final three games knowing that a solitary point would be enough to guarantee ascension to the top tier, but a rejuvenated Washington looked threatening from the outset, pushing forward from the off in surprisingly windy conditions.
Former Whitley Bay winger James Fairley spurned their first opportunity, slicing a close range volley over Chris Bannon’s crossbar after good work from stand-in centre-half Adam McGuinness on the left.
There was considerably more finesse on display at the other end minutes later as David Dormand came within inches of handing Allotment the early advantage.
Racing onto Stephen Little’s long ball, the forward lifted a first-time half-volley over keeper Neal Atkinson, and though it dipped considerably, the ball drifted agonisingly beyond the far post.
Washington wideman Fairley looked lively throughout the first half, proving to be the Mechanics’ most dangerous outlet.
The former Whitley Bay man collected the ball from a corner, cutting in from the left and bearing down on goal, but Bannon managed to tip the ball onto the outside of the post and away from danger.
The same player shot harmlessly wide not long after, and, for the majority of the half, the game’s best chances were split between two wingers – Fairley, and West Allotment’s Dean Lee.
In for the unavailable Liam Hudson, the Celtic counterpart was fed by a neat Dormand pass, curling a shot around his marker from the edge of the area that was well held by Atkinson.
Backed by a strong wind, Washington had the upper hand in terms of possession and chances. Experienced forward Mark Davison found his angle on goal diminished by the on-rushing Bannon, blocking the ball behind for a corner, before Fairley’s tidy pullback across the box could not be met by a red shirt.
Allotment rarely threatened in response, Lee lifting one strike over the bar and seeing another headed away by full back Anthony Lund.
Despite the prominent attacking personnel on the field, the best attempt came from a centre half. Richard Paxton, deputising at the back, launched a speculative 35-yard drive at goal, the faintest of touches by the back-pedalling Bannon tipping it onto the crossbar. The ball looped back into the six-yard box, where Chris Winn beat Bannon to it with a square header. It presented Fairley with a seemingly simple finish, but he snatched at his volley, skewing it harmlessly over the bar with the goal gaping.
With half-time fast approaching, it was Allotment’s turn to spurn a glorious opportunity.
This time it was Sean Reid who was played in, and though he bore down on goal, the club’s top scorer could not add to his impressive tally of 32, pulling his shot well wide of the target.
It looked as though the teams would head into the interval on level terms, but the ever-dangerous Winn came desperately close to breaking the deadlock with seconds left to play.
Fairley was the provider, a deep cross from the right flank finding the clinical forward. His powerful header from close range was somehow kept out by a fantastic reflex stop from Bannon, pushing the ball away from the line to keep it goalless at the break.
The hosts did not have to contend with the blustery conditions in the second half, and their play improved dramatically when the two sides returned for the second half.
Reid came close once more, sending a looping header from Ian Dunn’s cross-field delivery onto the roof of the net before Dormand hammered over Atkinson’s crossbar.
Michael Bell fared little better, collecting a threaded David Henderson pass on the right but failing to hit the target from an ever decreasing angle.
The game’s defining moment came prior to the hour mark.
A fine corner from Chris Douglas on the left found Reid towards the back post, and the attacker’s towering header back across goal nestled into the bottom corner, his wild celebrations as emphatic as the finish itself.
Never likely to surrender, Washington briefly fired some salvos Allotment’s way, Davison flicking an awkward header wide of goal, prior to Aaron Croft drilling marginally wide for the visitors.
The assured back four, vital in Allotment’s promotion push throughout the season, comfortably dealt with the renewed threat, and the home side were soon back on the front foot, looking to expose the gaps created by the Mechanics’ search for an equaliser.
Dormand was unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet, breaking clear of the defence and opting for another early half-volley, only this time from 35 yards. Again, Atkinson was well and truly beaten, the ball sailing over his head, but bouncing past the post.
The introductions of Marc Dummett and Tony Lancaster added fresh legs and impetus as Celtic sought to close the game out, and they so nearly did so in style.
Space opened up in front of John Pendlebury, the right back striding forward and powering a low attempt that was inches away from wrapping up the victory.
It looked unlikely that Washington would score two goals in stoppage time to postpone Allotment’s promotion party, but they did almost snatch a point for themselves in the game’s final throes, a 20-yard rasper from captain Michael Coughlan fizzing over the crossbar.
But the visitors would not dampen the atmosphere at Whitley Park, the final whistle sparking passionate celebrations on and off the field.
On the day, West Allotment’s improved second half showing was good value for the victory, just as their consistent and hard-working performances throughout the season fully warranted a promotion berth.
Thornaby’s last-minute leveller against Jarrow Roofing guaranteed a runner-up spot for Celtic, with only champions North Shields above them in division two.
The two local rivals will meet at the Daren Persson Stadium on Good Friday at 11am, where the North Tyneside promotion party can truly begin in earnest.