A NEW-look West Allotment Celtic team began the new season looking to regain their place in the top flight with a win in Cumbria.
Paul Stoneman and his management team are determined to get back into the STL Northern League division one after it was relinquished last season in such a sorry manner.
The squad has been bolstered with a number of new faces and, after an inconsistent pre-season, the real test started away to a side considered by many to be dark horses for promotion as the Cumbrians have recruited several players from Penrith, most with a first-division pedigree.
And, on a lush pitch with long grass that caused the ball to stick on a number of occasions, Allotment did well to grind out a useful 1-0 victory.
The visitors started off well, with youngster Michael Bell prominent in the opening moments.
However, as the first half progressed, Gillford began to dominate the match, helped by a series of free kicks conceded in dangerous areas by the Celtic defence.
Despite the pressure, Aiden Ames had few direct saves to make, with the home side tending to either over-elaborate or simply fail to put in a telling effort on goal.
The experience and physical presence of player-manager Stoneman was evident and his fellow defenders supported him admirably, not least Paul Haxon.
If Allotment looked a little lightweight in the centre of the pitch, they were showing increasing signs that there was joy to be had down the flanks, where Tony Lancaster and Dean Lee consistently worried the home rearguard.
The potential of this Allotment side was demonstrated by the decisive moment of the match, which arrived in the 52nd minute and mere seconds after Gillford had spurned three clear chances to take the lead in the space of one attack.
For once, possession was retained and then a superb ball out to the wing caught out the Gillford defence and enabled Lee to burst down the left flank.
The wideman then slipped a fine low ball into the box where it met the well-timed run of Mark Minto, who was able to turn and sweep the ball over the advancing keeper and into the goal via the inside of the upright.
The remainder of the game was a case of Gillford scrambling frantically for an equaliser while Allotment looked to hold what they had while delivering occasional counter-attacks when the home side over-stretched itself.
Such an event saw Lancaster denied by a fine save by Casson in the Gillford goal.
Midway through the half, Allotment’s holding job was made much harder when impressive central defender Glenn Ford was sent-off for allegedly striking an opponent during the usual jostling that goes on pending a free-kick.
There is no doubt that the Celtic goal bore a charmed life at times, with one far post header beating every defender but, somehow, the ball ended up sneaking millimetres over crossbar.
Yet, despite a generous five minutes of injury time, the home side never really showed enough wit or invention to warrant a leveller.
So, Celtic travelled home with three valuable points; hopefully some thing that will happen a lot more in 2011-12 than it did last term.
Allotment: Ames, Redhead, Haxon (Dummett), Dunn, Stoneman, Ford, Lancaster, McIvor (Little), Bell, Lee, Minto (Day). Subs not used: Gordon, Gibbs.