Robert Nolan scored his first goal in a green and white shirt as West Allotment Celtic fought their way to a 2-0 win over Whitehaven at Whitley Park.
Following on from the midweek defeat to Marske United in the League Cup, player-manager Paul Stoneman made a raft of changes to his starting line-up.
Ryan Beal returned between the sticks whilst John Pendlebury and Marc Dummett marked their respective returns from injury with a place in the back four.
Midfield pair Marc Allen and David Borley were preferred to regulars Ian Dunn and David Henderson, whilst up top, Nolan was handed his first start for the club with David Dormand having to settle for a spot on the bench.
Previous encounters against the Cumbrian opponents had been close, and it looked like being a similar case on the day.
Both sides struggled to supply that killer ball in the final third in a very tight affair.
After 20 minutes of battling without creating a clear cut chance, the visitors were handed an opportunity to take the lead.
A ricochet off Pendlebury allowed Whitehaven to break deep in Allotment territory, a square ball found Matt Tymon in the six-yard box, but Allen did enough to prevent the attacker from supplying the finish.
Nevertheless, Tymon improvised well, flicking the ball into the path of the unmarked Darren Donald. Mere feet from goal, the opener seemed forthcoming – only for Beal to make a terrific stop low down with his legs.
Ex-Hartlepool attacker Tymon looked a threat throughout the first half, but could not direct his header on target after more uncertainty between Allotment’s defence and keeper.
Celtic belatedly managed to fire some shots away towards the end of a relatively low-key half.
Whitehaven keeper Ian Studholme did well to palm away a looping attempt from the left flank, with Michael Bell waiting to pounce, but the stopper would have been powerless to prevent Celtic’s next chance.
Recent signing Nolan had seen little of the ball for much of the game, but looked dangerous on the turn, bursting down the right and whipping the ball across goal. Sean Reid came steaming in to meet it, but, under pressure from Kevin Law, he could only divert the ball over the crossbar.
In truth, high-flying Allotment should have gone in behind at the break, and would have done so were it not for the reflexes of their goalkeeper.
Whitehaven pushed for the goal that their play had warranted, first through Tymon and again minutes later through Barry Armfield, but Beal was more than equal to both attempts, tipping over a venomous strike from 20 yards, before saving and holding a close-range header from a set-piece.
Allotment came out with added zeal in the second half, creating two early half-chances through Bell.
The 22-year-old flicked a header well wide of goal, but almost became a provider minutes later, his tempting deep ball having just too much purchase for the incoming Nolan at the back post.
At the other end, Haven reminded the back four of the threat their midfield posed, Donald skewing an effort wide of the far post, but little could separate the two teams.
The game ultimately swung in Allotment’s favour, courtesy of a contested refereeing decision.
An inch-perfect pass by Nolan played in Reid behind the defence. Out came Studholme, but Allotment’s playmaker got a vital – albeit heavy – touch before the inevitable contact with the keeper and covering defender, and a penalty was duly awarded.
Whilst Celtic’s top scorer received treatment after the collision, Nolan stepped up to the plate, hammering the spot kick into the bottom-left corner of Studholme’s goal.
The goal had the simultaneous effect of boosting the hosts and deflating the visitors, and as Whitehaven began their search for a leveller, Allotment looked more likely to double their advantage.
Nolan’s confidence was sky high, but so was an ambitious solo effort from the ex-North Shields forward.
It mattered little, as another former Robin would make the game safe with 15 minutes remaining.
Liam Hudson found himself in acres of space on the left flank, controlling a sumptuous cross-field ball and darting towards the box. Rather than shoot, the winger opted to cushion a deft pass between two defenders into the path of substitute Henderson, who made no mistake with a tidy finish.
Allotment saw out the remaining time comfortably, collecting all three points against historically formidable opposition.
It was by no means pretty, but an improved second half showing was worthy of the win and a clean sheet.
As a result, West Allotment Celtic remain in third place in division two, keeping pace with their promotion rivals.