West Allotment Celtic made it three wins on the bounce with a sparkling performance at Durham City, where a Sean Reid penalty and a last-gasp Liam Hudson strike earned the visitors victory at New Ferens Park.
Allotment had beaten bottom-half rivals Celtic Nation and Billingham Synthonia in recent weeks, but looked less than convincing in the latter game.
Paul Stoneman’s side had to be at their best to take anything away from Durham, who had lost just three times at home prior to Saturday’s encounter.
Celtic duly delivered, showing class to upstage the Citizens with a season’s best showing.
The home side, still smarting from their 4-1 defeat against fellow Tyneside team Newcastle Benfield a fortnight ago, were slow to get going against a bullish Allotment side, who almost took an early lead through Michael Bell.
The midfielder has adapted well to his role as the side’s target man and set the stage for a fine personal and collective performance when he wriggled clear of three defenders, his vicious shot kept out of the top corner by the hand of Jordan Harkess.
David Henderson stung the stopper’s palms from the edge of the area, but the City goalkeeper could do nothing to stop John Pendlebury’s fizzing low volley from a Kallum McGlen corner, but centre half Jonny Davis came to the rescue, clearing the shot from the goal line to keep the scores level.
Durham could only muster half-chances in response, Davis blazing wildly over and Luke Carr failing to unduly trouble Dan Mullen with an effort from out wide.
The unfamiliar artificial surface did little to hamper Allotment’s passing game, the visitors fluid on the attack but tantalisingly unable to pick out the killer pass where it mattered.
Nevertheless, they got the break their play deserved when Liam Hudson, a handful all afternoon when working in tandem with Tony Lancaster, was brought down by a sliding Noble challenge. The referee instantly pointed to the spot and Reid effortlessly converted, sending Harkess the wrong way with the most precise of penalties.
The home support’s boos rapidly turned into exasperated groans as their side squandered one of few chances to peg Allotment back.
Good work from Moussa Bakhti from left back presented Callum Patton with a glorious opportunity ten yards out, but the forward snatched at the half-volley, sending the ball careering over the bar.
Spurious penalty appeals followed when David Henderson outmuscled Ryan Noble in the area, but City rarely looked like troubling the back four thereafter.
Allotment could have been at least two up heading into half-time, Bell again involved in both moves.
First, the forward won another vital header to flick the ball into the path of Reid, whose spectacular first-time effort from 25 yards dipped marginally over the bar. Then the 22-year-old almost got on the scoresheet himself after latching onto Jake Kallis’ superb ball around the corner but screwed his narrow one-on one-well wide of the target.
The second half followed a rather different pattern as Allotment looked to consolidate that narrow advantage, and the back four stood up to the test.
They needed a little help from David Henderson in the opening minutes, the midfielder clearing a header off the line at the near post, but remained resolute throughout, keeping the likes of Ryan Noble quiet all afternoon.
Despite tightening up at the back, Allotment still played the better football when in possession and looked dangerous on the break, Hudson in particular posing a constant threat down the left.
Fellow winger McGlen also put in a shift, and another of his set-piece deliveries found Bell unmarked in the box but the header was deflected behind.
Cruel luck almost cost Allotment their slender lead. Durham pushed forward in search of the leveller but came closest to equalising through a freak cross from Bakhti. The full back’s delivery veered back towards goal, almost catching out the backpedalling Mullen, who was relieved to see the ball nestle onto the roof of the net.
Entering the final 20 minutes, Allotment looked to exploit the gaps that were forming whenever Durham pressed forward, working the ball out of their own third with some slick one-touch passing.
Reid twice came close, the first effort parried low down by Harkess and the rebound slammed wide.
The aerially impressive Bell had provided an out ball for Allotment’s centre back pairing all afternoon, but almost finished off a flowing team move himself, striking over from the edge of the box after more positive play down the left hand side.
Only substitute Walid Abeid looked lively for City, who enjoyed plenty of possession without any conviction, held up at the last by Pendlebury and Michael Hall.
Despite the increasing pressure, only Aiden Haley managed to get a shot on target for the hosts, and when he did, Mullen was there to keep it out, getting down low to save and hold the shot.
The game was finally put to bed in stoppage time, courtesy of a sublime counter-attack.
Stoneman brought on fresh legs in Marc Allen and Mark Fenwick as the visitors looked to see out the game – and both would play their part in the second goal.
Allen set the move in motion with a fine pass to Bell, who collected a tidy one-two with Fenwick and drilled across the box. Coming in from the back post was Hudson, grabbing the goal he deserved and putting the result beyond doubt.
It not only rounded off a fine team move, but also a pleasing team performance across the park, every individual playing his part in the flawless victory.
That win sees Allotment leapfrog Newton Aycliffe into 17th place in the division one table, level on points with Ashington and just one point behind Newcastle Benfield.