A blistering start set West Allotment Celtic on course for a priceless 2-0 victory against partial namesakes Celtic Nation on Saturday afternoon.
An early own goal from Nation’s Kyle Mays and a second minutes later from Michael Bell proved enough to secure all three points for Allotment.
But the margin of victory could have been far greater, having struck the woodwork twice and spurned a host of chances at a surprisingly mild Whitley Park.
Liam Hudson and Ian Dunn both returned to the side as Allotment looked to bounce back from a 3-1 home defeat to Penrith.
John Pendlebury was unfortunate to open the scoring that day, bundling into his own net, but the hosts’ fortunes were reversed against more Cumbrian opposition.
Hudson got the better of left back Matthew Brown to whip in a teasing delivery. The intended target was an Allotment head but a diving Mays got there first, inadvertently nodding the ball into the bottom corner.
It was the perfect start and Nation were still reeling when they fell further behind moments later. Bell rose highest at the near post to meet Kallum McGlen’s corner, the number nine doubling the lead with a fine header from close range.
The commanding early lead bolstered Allotment with confidence, and that soon manifested itself in their forward play.
David Henderson and Sean Reid, now backed up by captain Dunn, pulled the strings in a series of eyecatching forays into opposition territory.
Henderson in particular was posing a threat with the ball at his feet, and almost got on the scoresheet himself, beating Andrew Casson to Hudson’s pass. However, the keeper did enough to prevent the midfielder from making it three, the resulting penalty appeals turned down by the referee.
Subdued for large periods of the half, Nation’s only chance fell to Dean Armstrong, but Michael Hall stood between the forward and the goal to block the low drive.
The visitors’ chances suffered another blow when defender Brown was forced off after a legit sliding tackle from Bell left him prostrate on the ground.
His replacement David Seggie fared little better in shackling Hudson, who should have put Allotment out of sight before the half hour mark.
Reid was the architect, sliding the ball across the area to the incoming winger. The pair had linked up in similar fashion two weeks previous against Newton Aycliffe when Hudson missed a gilt-edged chance to open the scoring, and the 27-year-old again failed to find the back of the net. Four yards out he opted for power rather than accuracy, spectacularly crashing the ball off the crossbar.
Another penalty appeal, this time for a mid-air shove on McGlen, was waved away by the officials before fellow winger Hudson fired off target, the wild end product not doing justice to the precise one-two shared with Henderson.
Allotment deserved more than a two-goal lead as the half-time whistle sounded, and that advantage could well have been halved when play resumed.
With Allan and Armstrong kept quiet by Pendlebury and Michael Hall, David Renyard became one of Nation’s few dangerous outlets. The wideman latched onto a dangerous cross-field ball ahead of Jake Kallis before firing low towards the bottom corner, but Allotment’s Daniel Mullen reacted well, hurling himself down low and getting fingertips on the shot to divert it around the far post.
Only two goals behind, a second-half revival was feasible for the Cumbrians, but Renyard’s drive was as good as it got, Mullen largely a spectator thereafter as Allotment created further chances to kill the game off.
A short, sharp passing move at close quarters saw Reid flick the ball into McGlen’s path, the young winger unfortunate to see his curling attempt come back off the upright, with Bell firing the rebound over.
The ever-dangerous Reid then fashioned a shooting opportunity for himself, a barnstorming run taking him past two defenders only to blaze over 18 yards out.
Celtic Nation’s uphill task became a nigh impossible one with 15 minutes remaining.
Incredulous at the referee’s failure to award a penalty for Tony Lancaster’s challenge on former Allotment winger Dean Douglas, Mark Boyd’s men vociferously challenged the decision. Captain Tyler Bowman did so a little too aggressively for the officials’ liking and was duly handed a straight red for his language.
Down to ten - temporarily nine when Mathew Read limped off injured - Nation struggled to keep Allotment at bay, and it was only the hosts’ own profligacy that kept the scoreline respectable.
Substitute Mark Waite released Bell with an inch-perfect 40-yard pass that split the defence, but the number nine’s unselfish square ball was intercepted as it reached Hudson at the back post.
Waite had three chances all of his own, two flying wide from the edge of the area and another parried by Casson, and fellow sub Mark Fenwick’s cheeky attempted lob was easily pulled out of the sky by the keeper, but the victory was rarely in any doubt.
In a game billed as a six-point relegation clash, Allotment showed their true quality, only the goals missing in an otherwise complete performance.
Allotment will look to take the momentum from their morale-boosting victory on the road with them to County Durham next week, tackling top-half outfit Bishop Auckland on Saturday.