An early Chris Douglas strike ultimately proved to be the difference for West Allotment Celtic as they survived a late charge by Brandon United to win 1-0 at Whitley Park.
The hosts were without a natural goalkeeper for the second game running, so midfield playmaker Sean Reid strapped on the goalie gloves, whilst John Pendlebury, Glenn Ford and Tony Lancaster all returned to Celtic’s depleted squad, ravaged by injury and prior commitments.
And yet, despite having just 14 players available for the Friday night fixture, Allotment took the lead with the first attack of the game.
Chris Douglas initiated the move, surging inside from out wide and playing a neat one-two with Michael Bell. The full back then completed the move, racing onto Bell’s delightful chipped return and sliding the ball through the legs of Brandon keeper Andrew Wilkinson.
Allotment were the livelier side in the opening period and looked like taking advantage of some suspect United defending.
Liam Hudson was denied by a good reflex save from Wilkinson, but David Dormand should have done better minutes later.
With a defender slipping in a precarious position and Wilkinson stranded, the striker tried to chip the ball over the keeper but his effort sailed past the post.
A Lancaster header drifted just wide of the target, but the best chance of the half was created – and then spurned by Dormand.
The forward did well to pick-pocket the centre half and surge towards goal, but his driven finish was too close to Wilkinson, who diverted it behind with an outstretched leg.
Whilst the home side looked to press home their advantage, United were struggling to put it together in the final third.
Their only chance to test Reid came as a result of a rare defensive lapse, but the stand-in keeper did enough to deter the onrushing Marc Costello, who could only poke wide of goal.
Andrew Blackburn fired well wide for the visitors, who failed to genuinely threaten the scoresheet before half-time.
After the break, the County Durham outfit began to come forward with a little more urgency.
After a sweeping move down the left, Brandon worked the ball across the box towards Ben Clarey, but the full back lashed his first-time effort wide.
Allotment hit back with half-chances of their own; Dormand was well denied in the box by a well-timed block tackle, and the lively Lancaster could not apply the finish to a fantastic cross from substitute Jed Findlay.
In a repeat of the first half, the best chance was forged and flittered away by Dormand.
The former Shankhouse hitman nodded beyond the last man and raced into space, but inexplicably narrowed his own shooting angle, allowing Wilkinson to palm the ball away once more.
Allotment almost lived to regret that miss as Brandon penned the hosts back into their own third.
The visitors finally forced Reid into making a save, but the rangy deputy was more than equal to it, excellently tipping a header just over the crossbar.
United poured forward, desperately searching for a late equaliser, and almost got it in the dying seconds, but player-manager Stoneman threw himself in front of James Davison’s goalbound shot, and Reid ultimately gathered the loose ball, ending all hopes of an injury-time leveller.
Though not the prettiest of victories, a stretched Allotment side did exceptionally well to pick up all three points, given the less than ideal circumstances.
Squad players Marc Allen and Lancaster stood out in the scrappy encounter, whilst Reid looked every inch a goalkeeper between the sticks.
With six consecutive wins under their belt, Celtic had two days to recuperate before taking on fellow high fliers Darlington RA in the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup semi-final on Monday night.