West Allotment Celtic secured their first silverware in eight years in defeating Northallerton Town 3-1 to lift the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup in style.
Following on from their thrilling 4-3 comeback victory over Darlington RA in the semi-final, Allotment served up another exhilarating encounter against their North Yorkshire counterparts at the Glamal Stadium in Billingham.
The often tense and always entertaining tie bore witness to a stonewall penalty, a dubious dismissal and, finally, a stunning winner from Celtic’s David Dormand to bring the trophy back to North Tyneside.
Allotment were without stalwart captain Ian Dunn for the occasion, and were soon to lose a second key member of the side, with dangerous winger Dean Lee expectably failing a fitness test prior to kick-off. Stephen Little and Liam Hudson were both deemed fit enough to play, with the former taking his place in defence alongside player-manager Paul Stoneman, whilst the latter had to settle for a place on the bench.
The Tynesiders looked the busier of the two sides in the opening exchanges, attacking with intent down both flanks and causing Town problems at the back. A combination of Marcus Laing’s boot and keeper James Briggs’ hands kept out Reid from point blank range, and only centre-half Craig Winter’s outstretched leg denied Stephen Little the game’s opening goal.
Midfield maestro Reid once again came close to breaking the deadlock after 17 minutes, directing his powerful header onto the top of the crossbar. Little bravely attempted to nod the rebound across the line from close range, taking a boot to the face in the process.
After the frenetic early period, chances soon became limited, though Allotment continued to have the upper hand. Northallerton rarely troubled Ryan Beal’s goal, with their greatest threats coming in the air.
Their first chance of the match fell to Nathan Porritt, who failed to head Stephen Anderson’s deftly chipped cross on target.
The Yorkshire outfit were dealt a serious blow to their chances when top scorer Adam Emson limped off, to be replaced by the returning Michael Dunwell.
With the half drawing to a close, Stoneman’s charges continued to search for the opener, and almost got it minutes before the interval.
Dormand was always stretching to get on the end of Michael Bell’s tantalising whipped ball from the right, ultimately prodding wide and high at pace.
Celtic came out with similar attacking intent in the second half, and deputising wide man Chris Douglas looked odds on to score, only for the onrushing Briggs to make a fantastic low stop at his feet.
Only one team looked like scoring, and Allotment deservedly went ahead from the penalty spot after 50 minutes.
Reid was barged over from behind, the victim of a clumsy challenge in the area, and he duly despatched the resulting penalty, powering the ball beyond Briggs.
Without Emson in attack, Northallerton looked short of options going forward, and replacement forward Dunwell fired well wide from a good position on the edge of the area.
Down the other end, another teasing Bell cross flashed across the box, just evading Douglas when it mattered.
The leaders looked comfortable, but one of Town’s towering defenders headed Northallerton level against the run of play.
Little conceded a free kick 35 yards out, affording Gavin Parkin the opportunity to put the ball into the box.
His lofted set-piece was met by full-back James Bowman, whose looping header soared over Beal and into the top corner.
Roared on by their vocal support, Northallerton finally came into the game, penning Allotment back into their own half for the first time in the afternoon.
An acrobatic attempt from veteran forward Carl Chillingsworth was speculative but nonetheless worthwhile, as his overhead kick flew over the crossbar.
Just as the Yorkshiremen were pushing for a second, Allotment retook the lead from a set piece of their own.
Marc Dummett’s corner made its way to Dormand at the near post, who headed Celtic back in front from inside the six yard box.
The top-scoring striker could have doubled his tally minutes later, racing through on goal, only to be denied by another fine low stop from the excellent Briggs.
Just as Allotment looked to have reasserted their dominance, another twist in the tale threatened to change the complexion of the game in Northallerton’s favour.
Little was dubiously adjudged to have fouled Chillingsworth on the edge of the area, despite seeming to make contact with the ball, and was handed his second yellow card of the afternoon with 15 minutes left to play.
Substitute Dunwell fired the resulting free-kick just over the crossbar – and it proved to be Northallerton’s final chance of the match.
A fresh introduction from the opposite bench proved to be the clincher, as Celtic’s Kallum McGlen broke forward, before releasing Dormand in on goal with a fantastic through ball.
The former Morpeth hit man maintained his composure to slam the ball past Briggs, putting Allotment’s jangling nerves at ease.
Allotment pulled out one of their most combative performances of the season when it mattered, with Bell and fellow midfielder David Henderson battling heroically for their side, particularly once they were reduced to ten men.
Celtic will savour the cup victory, collecting their first silverware since winning the Northern League division two title in 2004, and will undoubtedly look to build on their success next season.