West Allotment Celtic returned from their 220-mile round trip to Whitehaven empty-handed after going down 3-1 to their Cumbrian hosts on Saturday afternoon.
Haven fired the first warning shots across the bow at the Focus Scaffolding Sports Complex when midfielder Darren Donald was fed on the edge of the box and was shaping up to shoot, only for Sean Reid - at centre-half in place of suspended player-manager Paul Stoneman – to poke the ball away from danger.
Moments later, the home side tested Ryan Beal for the first time as the keeper pushed away a firm effort from Matty Tymon.
Although Allotment looked less than assured in the opening stages, they took the lead after 15 minutes via their first notable attack of the afternoon.
Stephen Little headed a deep free kick back across goal towards the waiting Lawrence McKenna, who shrugged off the attentions of his marker to tuck home from close range.
The striker should have doubled his tally – and with it, Allotment’s advantage – just minutes later.
The centre half could not prevent McKenna from getting beyond him whilst running to meet a deep Chris Douglas set-piece, but headed over with the goal at his mercy.
Celtic would go on to rue their missed opportunity as Whitehaven came storming back into the game.
Full back Jack Hunter whipped in a dangerous cross from the left and Tymon stooped between two defenders to guide the ball into the far corner with his head.
The shell-shocked visitors should have been behind within minutes as an unmarked Donald powered over the crossbar from just three yards out.
But the hosts did not have to wait long for their pressure to pay off.
Whitehaven strode forward, stringing together a number of fine passes to put Kevin Holliday through, and the midfielder finished neatly to round off a splendid team move.
A long-range effort from the other Holliday drew a solid save from Beal, but a disjointed Allotment were down at the interval by just a single goal – but any hope of a second half resurgence seemed to be crushed by a third Whitehaven goal shortly after the restart.
The hosts caught John Pendlebury in possession and broke forward at pace. The unmarked Tymon looked certain to latch onto the square ball and score again, but Marc Allen did well to get there first – only to see his attempted interception fly into the back of the net.
The unfortunate goal prompted some activity on the Allotment bench as Marc Dummett and David Dormand joined the action in an attack-minded reshuffle.
However, the visitors – already struggling with injuries and suspensions – were forced to bring off the former within just ten minutes, with Kallum McGlen filling in at full back.
The tactical rethink belatedly started to pay off for Allotment, who tested keeper Stuart Petitt twice in almost as many minutes.
Liam Hudson found a yard of space within the area only to see his low strike deflected away, before Dormand’s goalbound headed flick was somehow kept out by the tip of the keeper’s fingers.
The striker was inches away from connecting with a wicked Hudson cross, but the ball instead fell into the path of McKenna, who dragged his effort wide of the far post.
With Celtic on the attack, the game opened up at both ends, and Whitehaven spurned two opportunities to kill the game off.
A fine square ball from substitute Craig Robson skidded agonisingly across the face of goal, with no attacker present to apply the finishing touch.
Donald went even closer soon after, crashing a well-hit strike off the underside of the crossbar.
However, West Allotment’s best chance to salvage something from the game came with just ten minutes left on the clock.
Reid, in his customary advanced role, was held back by the centre half in the box, affording the away side the opportunity to get back into the tie from 12 yards out. Reid’s penalty was well-struck, but Petitt made a superb diving save to his left to deny Celtic any hope of a comeback.
Dormand curled wide when through on goal and McKenna saw a distant effort comfortably saved as the game ebbed away from Allotment, who ultimately paid the price for a poor first half and a profligate second.