A GOAL two minutes from time by substitute Liam Hudson earned West Allotment Celtic an FA Cup replay, which had looked highly unlikely earlier in the match.
In the competition’s extra preliminary round on Saturday, Allotment were attempting to bounce back from an undeserved one-goal defeat in the league at Alnwick in midweek, while it was impossible to read anything into Northallerton’s early-season form, which read: drew 5-5, won 2-0.
The FA Cup tie was the first game to take place on the freshly re-laid surface at Whitley Park and the pitch looked an absolute picture.
Yet, strangely, the new grass seemed to affect the home side in a negative manner, for they put in a woeful first-half showing.
Perhaps it was early season tiredness, perhaps it was the slightly changed formation for the opening home match; whatever it was, it was not very good.
After a scrappy start it did not take long for the visitors to take control.
In the 12th minute Town’s Stuart Hardy was allowed to work enough space to whip in a cross that Paul Hodgson easily headed past the helpless Aiden Ames.
The only surprise was that it had taken so long.
With Allotment’s own wingers, so impressive in the opening league matches, not posing much of an offensive threat, and the midfield unable to get a hold of the ball, it was the visitors who asked all the questions.
Two efforts midway through the half should have been finished more clinically by Town ,and those misses would come back to haunt them at the death.
Despite being under the cosh, there were occasional flickers of life from Celtic, with Liam McIvor rapping the top of the crossbar on the half-hour mark and Dean Lee spurning a presentable opening just before the break by scuffing a shot well wide of the target.
But, overall, the Town keeper simply was not getting enough work to do.
The early moments of the second period suggested that the interval was not going to affect the pattern of the match as Ian Dunn was caught dithering on the ball and the resultant attack saw a shot cannon off Allotment’s upright.
It was a lucky escape but at least, and at long last, it provoked some urgency from the home side.
The fightback was a gradual affair, and regularly undermined by passes going astray and the wrong option being chosen in the final third of the pitch.
But slowly Celtic began to claw their way back into the game.
The home side was also spurred on by an increasingly nervy Northallerton team, palpably fretting about squandering so many chances to settle the tie.
The introduction of the pacy and muscular Hudson was a turning point, as the previously impenetrable Town defence, marshalled by the towering Craig Winter, suddenly looked worried by the more speedy forwards hustling amongst them.
Not only worried, but tired as the visitors looked increasingly leggy as the game neared its conclusion.
Yet, as the clock ticked into the 88th minute, not many in the ground would have put money on an equaliser.
However, the lively Hudson was not to be denied and, winning a solid challenge on Celtic’s left flank, he burst into the box before firing a rasping drive beyond the despairing Town keeper.
The only disappointment was that there was so little time remaining; the visitors were on their knees and another ten minutes might well have seen Celtic go on to win the match.
Still, after the awful performance in the first half, a replay was probably reward enough.
Allotment: Ames; Rue; Dummett; Dunn; Stoneman; Ford; Lancaster; McIvor; Day (Hudson); Minto (Gordon); Lee (Bell). Subs not used: Redhead, Little.
The replay was scheduled to be played last night (Wednesday).