Two goals in the space of two minutes from Rob Nolan secured three points for West Allotment Celtic on Saturday afternoon, emerging narrow victors against a dogged Ryton & Crawcrook Albion side.
The wind of change swept through Whitley Park, with player-manager Paul Stoneman choosing to rest a number of players – not least himself – after Tuesday night’s win at Whickham.
New signing Paul Chapman, a recent acquisition from Heaton Stanington, returned for his second spell at Celtic, and was one of six fresh faces in a revamped starting line-up.
The changes in personnel were accompanied by a change in shape, with the manager eschewing his regular 4-2-3-1 for an outright 4-3-3 formation, with Chapman joining Nolan and David Dormand in the more attacking set-up.
Unfortunately, the violent winds that whipped around the ground soon put paid to any hope of seeing how the new-look Allotment would fare.
Backed by the wind, Ryton looked dangerous from kick-off, belying their lowly league position.
One early half-chance for Chapman aside – failing to connect with a free header within the box – it was all Albion in terms of opportunities created, as the away side did a better job of working the ball forwards along the floor.
Philip Hodges was first to threaten, lashing clear of the bar from just inside the area, and Lee McGill soon followed suit, albeit from a greater distance.
Allotment’s lofted balls around the corner, often a source of success when looking to break forward, were routinely blown off course by the elements, and the hosts looked less than comfortable on the ball in deeper areas.
Albion’s early probing was a cause for concern, but a switch to the more traditional 4-4-2 did little to halt John Wilson’s men.
The wind almost grabbed an expected assist, catching Leigh Shickle’s in-swinging corner and gusting it onto the crossbar before Orin Parkinson skied the follow-up under pressure from six yards out.
Errors started to creep into Allotment’s game in the trying conditions, and, after Scott Gunn had fired over, the visitors were gifted another opening via some poor decisions at the back.
McGill, who looked to cause Allotment problems throughout the 90 minutes, dragged his effort just wide of the far post.
A goal seemed forthcoming, and it was Ryton who deservedly opened the scoring just short of half-time in spectacular fashion.
Captain Shickle was afforded space to drive forward from left back, unleashing a superb 25-yard strike that rose beyond Bannon and into the top corner.
Albion could even have made it two before the whistle, Glenn Ford charging down a venomous strike from Gunn, before McGill belatedly tested Bannon, who had to get down quickly to push away the forward’s low drive.
Despite having to replace the injured Michael Bell with Ian Dunn during the interval, Allotment’s luck otherwise changed with the wind as they came out for the second half, with Nolan probing from the outset.
The striker saw one effort well blocked within the area, before lifting a second clear of the crossbar.
Having rediscovered his eye for goal at Allotment, the 24-year-old is beginning to show the kind of form that saw him move from North Shields to Blyth Spartans last year.
It was there for all to see as the game approached the hour mark, as he produced a moment of brilliance which superseded that of Shickle.
Receiving Sean Reid’s throw-in, the forward gave his marker the eyes and burst in the opposite direction, before rifling into the top corner from a difficult position.
The fans were still celebrating the first moment of class when Nolan produced a second, doubling his tally within two minutes.
The in-form forward collected the ball in the box and unleashed a low shot past the despairing Kevin Quigley in the Albion goal, completing a remarkable turnaround that left the Albion’s defenders somewhat shellshocked.
Surprisingly in the ascendancy, a now rampant Allotment side started to turn the screw, and could have put the game to bed in a frantic five-minute period.
Reid was the architect of the first opportunity, his delightful back-to-goal flick playing in Douglas down the left. The square ball across the box found Dormand, but a combination of goalkeeper and defender did enough to deflect the effort behind.
Ian Dunn was next to test Quigley, the captain’s wind-assisted cross forcing the keeper to spill the ball away for a corner.
Allotment’s reliable anchor man came closer still with a more intentional effort from the following set-piece, his looping header nodded off the line by an Albion defender.
Despite the scoreline remaining close, Allotment looked reasonably comfortable, with the combination of Dunn and Allen breaking the game up well in the middle of the park.
Dormand nodded a difficult header over the bar – but it was to be the last chance they had to definitively secure the win, as Ryton came surging back in the final ten minutes and could have snatched what would have been a deserved point.
Celtic were reduced to ten for the final ten minutes, goalscorer Nolan forced off with an ankle injury, and the visitors looked to take full advantage.
Breaking effectively down the left, McGill looked set to convert a pullback from the byline, but, though his shot was well-struck, Bannon was equal to it, getting his body behind the ball to deny the attacker once more.
Albion piled forward, and were within inches of equalising from a corner, only for Douglas to clear the ball from the line towards the far post, sparing Allotment’s blushes.
There was still time for one more crack at goal, and the opportunity that fell to Hodges was gilt-edged.
The promising wide man lost his marker as he darted to meet a whipped cross from the right, but his free header into the ground was saved – and, significantly, held – by the excellent Bannon.
West Allotment ultimately held on for another vital victory against a side that looked far from relegation fodder.
The gamble to rest a host of familiar faces ultimately paid off, but the likes of Hudson, Dunn and Dummett – and, of course, Stoneman himself – may well be reinstated when South Shields make the trip to Tyneside on Wednesday evening.